American Hubris

Beinart serves up an excerpt from his new book, The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris:

How could our forefathers have been so cowardly and immoral? Stalin was a monster; so was Mao, and they both had nuclear weapons aimed at us. Why did we live with that sword of Damocles? Why did we accept their dominion over billions of souls? Once upon a time, the answer was obvious: Because we lacked the power not to.

Franklin Roosevelt knew the American people would not sacrifice their sons by the thousands to keep Eastern Europe from Soviet hands. During Korea, Harry Truman blundered into war with Beijing, and realized that in Asia too, the price of denying America’s communist foes a sphere of influence was appallingly high. Even Ronald Reagan proved so reluctant to challenge Soviet control over Poland in the early eighties that conservative commentators accused him of betrayal. In different ways, all these presidents understood that in foreign policy, as in life, there are things you may fervently desire but cannot afford. And in foreign policy, the recognition that resources are limited, and precious, is even more important since you are not merely spending other people’s money; you are spilling other people’s blood.