When Indispensables provide specifics to support their claim, they almost exclusively highlight some use of the U.S. military, whether for humanitarian purposes, coercion, or war fighting. More than any other country, the United States retains a far greater capacity to send troops, disaster response professionals, or bombs virtually anywhere in the world in a short time frame. Today, the U.S. Navy has 102 ships deployed around the world, the Air Force 659 strategic airlifters, 456 air refuelers, and 159 long-range bombers, and the Air Force and Navy combined some 3,407 fighter and attack aircraft. Not to mention the over 300,000 active-duty and reserve Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines deployed to warzones or stationed at America’s 576 active military facilities worldwide.
These unmatched global military capabilities provide U.S. officials with an unmatched spectrum of policy options. However, these can be used for benign and relatively judicious missions, like responding to typhoons, or for profoundly destabilizing and dumb ones, such as invading a distant country to topple its leader with minimal support from other countries and a totally implausible transition strategy. These damaging and tremendously costly missions conveniently tend to be forgotten by Indispensables, yet they are partially a direct result of their crusading mindset.
Indispensables also cite recent U.S. foreign policy activities as evidence to support their hypothesis, but do so in an extremely selective manner. For example, using Obama’s examples, nearly all of the more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls remain in the clutches of Boko Haram, and clandestine Russian security forces continue to operate with impunity in Ukraine. Abuja and Kiev looked to the United States for help, which it provided to the extent that their governments were willing to accept it. But in both countries the help was insufficient to achieve the intended objectives. Again, the reason is, as a senior administration official declared in March: “The American people are not going to war with Russia over Ukraine, full stop.” Similarly, even if Michelle Obama herself posts a Twitter photo holding a #BringBackOurGirls sign, U.S. forces will not unilaterally violate Nigerian sovereignty to openly intervene on behalf of the government in a complex civil war to attempt to retrieve them.