The world is large and the U.S. has numerous interests to protect. Such was the uncontroversial theme of comments by Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes at the Washington Ideas Forum on Wednesday. At the same time, as The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out in conversation with him, recent events in the Middle East—notably an intelligence-sharing accord struck between Russia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria; and the morning’s news that Russia had begun bombing targets in Syria—give the impression that America is on “the back foot” in world affairs.
Everybody focuses on the Middle East, Rhodes said. But America can’t devote all its attention to “trying to fix fundamentally broken societies,” and Asia is “going to matter a lot more to the American people in the 21st century.” In the long term, America’s position will rely on “rebuilding strength, the strength of our own foundation, our economy,” and extricating itself from places like Iraq and Afghanistan—where the price of involvement is high, and there are limits to what the United States can achieve.
But what about the risks of non-involvement? “Has the president learned you can’t get out?” Goldberg asked. “It’s the Corleone rule—you can’t leave no matter what you do.”