Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Should We Bring Back 'Big Stick' Dipomacy?

Professor Eliot Cohen's out with a new book, at Amazon, The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force.

And here's his op-ed at LAT from last week, "Should the U.S. still carry a ‘big stick’?":
To the extent that President-elect Donald Trump has articulated a coherent view of foreign affairs, it appears to be that the United States needs to reject most policies of the post-1945 period. NATO is a bad bargain; nuclear proliferation is a good thing; Russian President Vladimir Putin is an admirable fellow; great deals that advantage only us should replace free trade.

In his unique way, Trump is forcing a question that probably should have been up for debate 25 years ago: Should the United States stay a global power that maintains world order — including by force of arms, what Theodore Roosevelt famously called “the big stick”?

Curiously, the death of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War did not immediately occasion that debate. In the 1990s, keeping a global leadership role for the United States looked cheap — other nations, after all, paid for the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In that conflict and America’s succeeding interventions in the former Yugoslavia, costs and casualties were low. Then in the early 2000s, Americans were understandably absorbed by the consequences of 9/11 and the ensuing wars and terror attacks. Now, for better or worse, the debate is upon us.

It is worth keeping some history in mind as we decide whether to reject the posture that the United States has maintained abroad for more than half a century.


President Obama hoped to end the wars he had inherited in 2008. Instead, he launched America’s third war in Iraq, ramped up our deployments in Afghanistan, expanded by an order of magnitude our campaign of counter-terrorist assassination and ordered an air campaign against the Libyan government. He deployed warships near China’s man-made islands and began redeploying American forces to a frightened Eastern Europe. Reality, not ideology, overcame his principled reluctance to exerting American power.

The choice between global engagement and America First is bogus. As in the last century, our choice is whether to lead wisely, firmly and usually peacefully while we can, or to send men and women into harm’s way belatedly and bloodily when we must. Let us hope that the new president comes to understand that we need the “big stick” not “to make America great again,” but to keep a peace that is precious, fragile and worth protecting.