America's dangerous aversion to conflict

Because of the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, to suggest sending even a few thousand troops to fight anywhere for any reason is almost unthinkable. The most hawkish members of Congress don’t think it safe to argue for a ground attack on the Islamic State or for a NATO troop presence in Ukraine. There is no serious discussion of reversing the cuts in the defense budget, even though the strategic requirements of defending U.S. allies in Europe, Asia and the Middle East have rarely been more manifest while America’s ability to do so has rarely been more in doubt.

But Americans, their president and their elected representatives have accepted this gap between strategy and capability with little comment—except by those who would abandon the strategy. It is as if, once again, Americans believe their disillusionment with the use of force somehow means that force is no longer a factor in international affairs.

In the 1930s, this illusion was dispelled by Germany and Japan, whose leaders and publics very much believed in the utility of military power. Today, as the U.S. seems to seek its escape from power, others are stepping forward, as if on cue, to demonstrate just how effective raw power really can be.

Once again, they are people who never accepted the liberal world’s definition of progress and modernity and who don’t share its hierarchy of values. They are not driven primarily by economic considerations. They have never put their faith in the power of soft power, never believed that world opinion (no matter how outraged) could prevent successful conquest by a determined military. They are undeterred by their McDonald’s. They still believe in the old-fashioned verities of hard power, at home and abroad. And if they are not met by a sufficient hard-power response, they will prove that, yes, there is such a thing as a military solution.