But further, Hoffman appears entirely comfortable with greater risk and uncertainty in both Europe and Asia. She asserts, for instance, that “China’s authoritarian capitalism hasn’t translated into territorial aggression, while Russia no longer commands central and eastern Europe.” This is an easy wager to make when you assume we will be spared the consequences.
Tell that to Japan, which faces near-daily incursions by Chinese maritime patrol vessels into its administered waters near the Senkaku Islands, or to Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, and Malaysia, who are all trying to protect their territory from Chinese fishermen and Chinese state-owned patrol craft. That’s not to mention China’s suppression of Tibet or its missile buildup across the Taiwan Straits from the only democratic ethnically Chinese state. Russia, meanwhile, boasts of modernizing its military and nuclear forces, while it meddles in Ukraine and other neighboring countries. Yet, despite these threats, Ms. Hoffman considers it “irrational” to plan for a potential two-front war.
After misdiagnosing the global environment and misunderstanding America’s security needs, Hoffman then prescribes a flawed policy. She argues that Washington should continue to pressure Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs, and then she praises multilateralism, of course, and offers vague nostrums about “championing the right of small nations, including Israel, to ‘freedom from fear,’” whatever that means.
It’s all very inspiring — and profoundly unrealistic. Like it or not, American influence comes from our military and economic strength. Thus, it is particularly galling that Hoffman states that our military commitments, which have helped free hundreds of millions of vulnerable people, “drain” our resources, without even mentioning America’s ruinous entitlement programs.
As for her prescriptions, we have decades of evidence that woolly-headed multilateralism doesn’t work, and that disruptive actors (such as Pyongyang and Tehran) simply use negotiations to buy time for their weapons programs. We know that our allies will continue to cut their defense budgets, at least until they get scared enough to embark on a destabilizing arms race fueled by nationalism and a sense of strategic vulnerability. And we definitely don’t want to reach that point.
What Hoffman misses is that we pay such costs to ensure stability, not to go looking for foreign monsters to destroy. It is what the military calls “phase zero” operations: shaping the international environment, assuring partners, dissuading potential adversaries. By any measure, it is cheaper than actually fighting.
American isolationism helped bring about the train wreck in Europe that led to World War II. Our global engagement since then has made the last seven decades the most peaceful in history. Removing American troops from around the globe would be like changing a cooking recipe: You can take out any ingredient you want, but the result will taste quite a bit different — most likely, in this case, like cordite and blood.
— Michael Auslin is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @michaelauslin.