One cannot argue with the thesis of this essay, which is that the United States should honor its commitments if it expects its interests to be respected by potential aggressors. The question is, what kind of commitments ought the United States to make, and which should it avoid?

I suggest that the prudent defense of liberty around the world and an open global economy are in the United States' fundamental interest, with the emphasis on defense. The United States oversaw the establishment of democratic regimes in Germany, Italy and Japan after World War II and undertook to defend these countries. Throughout the Cold War, however, despite many outrageous acts by the Soviet Union, the United States and NATO never attempted to intervene by force in Eastern Europe, even though the countries of Central Europe could easily have become democracies and did so once liberated. This restraint was painful but prudent.

I don't think one can rope the American people into backing a long-term military commitment in fragmented, unfree countries. Americans don't have the patience to spend generations turning a riven, unfree society into a free one, and this reluctance is in my view wise. Afghanistan and Vietnam consumed immense American resources and lives. If America had persisted for 50 years in each country it may have brought about change, but the cost would not have been worth the erosion of America's defense resources and domestic morale. I note that South Korea and Taiwan were united domestically in opposition to an external aggressor, even though they were not democracies in the 1940s; liberty came later. As a resident of Israel, when Bush the younger declared his war against Iraq to be a campaign for democracy I was disturbed and pretty sure it would end in tears. The costs of democratic evangelism in countries that are neither internally stable nor democratic is so high that it represents an imprudent use of resources. Best to undertake a limited mission such as throwing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and then getting out, bringing Saddam's head back Stateside in a box.

The Obama-Biden disaster is of a different kind. Obama was sure that he was always the smartest man in the room and usually he was, but he had an irrational commitment to the thesis that anything America does, domestically or internationally, has to be bad and therefore America has no positive role to play in the world. Past and present Harvard affiliates are no strangers to this dystopic worldview. As to Biden, now engaged in appeasement of the Iranian dictatorship that would make Stanley Baldwin blush, he and the people who operate him are "spinal Obamas" (heard of spinal frogs in high school biology?). You could conduct the Michelson-Morley experiment between their ears - works best in a vacuum.

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For better or worse the lack of strategic patience is endemic to American democracy. We are not the Roman Empire. Instead of lamenting this inescapable fact, the architects of our foreign policy should assume it. That is the essence of realism.

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