The disorder of today’s world is imposing a very big question: Whatever is the purpose of President Obama’s foreign policy? The United States is refusing to accept its superpower responsibility, and commentators the world over are trying to interpret this mystery. No good can possibly come of a foreign policy that indulges enemies but restrains allies. The vaunted “reset” of relations with President Putin has given Russia opportunities not seen since the Soviet era. Putin now has a lock on Iran and Syria that reduces American policy to incoherence. The Iraqi government and even the small-time Palestinian Authority have been put into a position to dictate to the United States. Joe Joffe, one of the most far-sighted political interpreters in Germany, has come up with the neat summary that the United States, inventor of the Cold War concept of containment, has turned instead to self-containment.
On the recent National Review cruise, Colonel Allen West gave an amazing example of self-containment from his service in Afghanistan. A soldier observing a Taliban laying an explosive device has to obtain permission to shoot him. His obvious intention to kill Americans is not the actual commitment of violence that would satisfy the lawyers. By the time some senior officer is contacted and gives the necessary permission, the Taliban has long since vanished. This is how to fight a war while making sure not to win it.
In a coruscating contribution to National Review Online, David French reminds us that the use of decisive force is a moral necessity. The world war was not fought against German or Japanese individuals but to destroy the Nazism and Japanese militarism that possessed them and left mass-victims in their wake. However many lives were lost fighting these systems, the world is better off for it. Another NRO writer, Michael Walsh, supports the conclusion that the decisive response is the right response.
Islamism is not the equivalent threat of Nazism or Japanese militarism, but its destruction would also save lives. Self-containment is not the necessary moral imperative for such an outcome.