Has America given up on deterrence?

Even Secretary of State John Kerry hinted at the concern last weekend at Yale University, where he returned nearly 50 years after giving a graduation speech at the height of the Vietnam War. “In 1966 I suggested an excess of isolation had led to an excess of interventionism,” he said. Now the situation is reversed, he argued, and “we cannot allow a hangover from the excessive interventionism of the last decade to lead now to an excess of isolationism in this decade.” America’s allies, he said, “worry about what would happen in our absence.”

During a recent trip to Washington, Laurent Fabius, the foreign minister of France, said: “There was a time when the U.S. was intervening everywhere, and throughout the world people were reproaching the country. And now the U.S. is not intervening, and people are reproaching them again.” 

He went on to argue that in failing to enforce red lines with Syria, by backing away from a military strike that he threatened if the country used chemical weapons, Mr. Obama made an error that he is paying for to this day.

A few days later a top Southeast Asian official looked up from his lunch and asked, “If you were running China today, would you be convinced there is anything that America would take the risk of casualties to protect?” Certainly not some uninhabited islands off Japan, he added, referring to one of the several disputed territories China is aggressively claiming as its own.