Whenever there’s a conflict anywhere in the world, a gaggle of American pundits and politicians insists that the United States fix it. Whether it's Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham pushing weapons shipments to Ukraine, former ambassador Robert Ford urging Washington to arm Syrian rebels, or The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol calling for troops to be sent to Iraq, the assumption is always that every problem is America's problem, and that the best way to solve America's problems is with force.
Barry Posen, a professor of political science at MIT and a foreign-policy realist, advocates a different approach. The title of his new book, Restraint, succinctly expresses his policy recommendation. The U.S., he argues, needs to stop trying to do more and more. Instead, it needs to do less. Or, as he puts it, "Efforts to defend everything leave one defending not much of anything."
Posen rests his discussion on two basic arguments. The first is that the United States is, by any reasonable metric, an incredibly secure nation. It is geographically isolated from other great powers—a position that makes invading or even attacking the U.S. mainland prohibitively difficult. U.S. conventional forces are by far the most powerful in the world. Posen notes that the U.S. "accounted for a little more than a third of all the military spending in the world during the 1990s," and has increased the percentage to about 41 percent of all military spending in the world today. On top of that, the U.S. has a massive nuclear deterrent. It is simply not credible to argue that Iran, North Korea, Iraq, Pakistan, or even Russia or China have the combination of dangerous capabilities and malign intentions to pose a serious existential threat to the United States in anything but the most paranoid neocon fantasies.