But I insist that a prospective president's insights on China, Russia and Mexico, to cite three examples, are incomparably more vital than their thoughts on Morocco, Tunisia, and even Libya. Isn't it odd that countries with the capability of killing us by the tens of millions with nuclear weapons, or else bordering our homeland and losing a war against drug cartels, often go unmentioned?
Our discourse reflects suspect decisions made by President Obama and his predecessor. Consider their foreign policy seen from 100,000 feet. American military involvement in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan will ultimately cost up to $4.4 trillion, according to a new Brown University study:
The $1.3 trillion officially appropriated on Capitol Hill is the tip of a spending iceberg. If other Pentagon outlays, interest payments on money borrowed to finance the wars, and the $400bn estimated to have been spent on the domestic "war on terror", the total cost is already somewhere between $2.3 and $2.7 trillion. And even though the wars are now winding down, add in future military spending and above all the cost of looking after veterans, disabled and otherwise and the total bill will be somewhere between $3.7 trillion and $4.4 trillion.
Was that wise? Or do you think we'd be safer if instead of invading Iraq, or spending a decade trying to rebuild Afghanistan, we'd have spent it on different aspects of national security - stopping nuclear proliferation, say, and improving our foreign intelligence. And the next dozen items on your personal list of foreign affairs priorities. These opportunity costs never seemed to enter the calculus of folks who championed the course we took.
Take Christopher Hitchens. Agree or disagree with him, the War on Terror hawk is a formidable interlocutor in almost every argument, often offering the most persuasive case there is to be made.
The parts of his recent column that touch on Libya are among the least persuasive things he's ever written. He characterizes opposition to the war there as "isolationism," and says this about Michele Bachmann: "For Bachmann to choose this moment to say that the loony of Libya poses no threat is to disqualify herself from any consideration for high office. She evidently knows nothing about the four decades of dictatorship and depredation that have led up to this."
Daniel Larison offers the obvious rebuttal. "Until the U.S. and allied forces started attacking Libya, it was perfectly reasonable to say that Gaddafi posed no threat to the United States or Europe, and it was quite correct to say that the U.S. in particular had no national security interest in the outcome of the Libyan civil war," he writes. "The Libyan war is not being fought for allied security, much less U.S. security, and this has been obvious from the first day. The Libyan war turned Gaddafi back into a threat to the U.S. and Europe after he had ceased to be one."