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Breaking the Bad Habit of Interventionism

Thomas Donnelly writes a very weird response to a recent Sean Kay argument:

Both Sean Kay and Barack Obama would like to see America repudiate its traditional strategic culture, to stop intervening and to end our involvement in “other people’s” conflicts. At least Realists make no pretense about being attuned to others’ cries of “Liberta! Liberta!” But those cries still resonate in most American ears, and it’s the president’s tone-deafness that is souring his supporters [bold mine-DL].

Donnelly’s proof for this “traditional strategic culture” is to dig up a 16th-century reference that he thinks shows that Elizabethan Englishmen and Americans “share a strong belief that lasting security lies in creating a world safe for justice.” It would be generous to call this claim a huge stretch for both nations, but even if we accept that most Americans believe that “lasting security lies in creating a world safe for justice” it doesn’t mean that they want to the U.S. to be involved in foreign conflicts on a regular basis. No matter how many slogans about freedom one uses to dress them up, destroying foreign governments and leaving other countries in chaos have nothing to do with making the world safe for justice.

Besides, it’s simply not true that we “congenitally have been prone to stick our noses into things.” If that means taking sides in the internal conflicts of other countries, Americans spent the better part of our history since independence not doing this. The U.S. admittedly was an expansionist power in our own hemisphere during the 19th century, but it was otherwise careful not to interfere or take sides in other nations’ internal affairs. It was mainly just in the last seventy years that the U.S. took it upon itself to take an active role in internal conflicts elsewhere in the world, and then usually with disastrous results for the countries affected by this interference. That is what Americans have soured on over the last ten years, and it is what they will likely keep rejecting in the foreseeable future. Even if Americans have now become accustomed to meddling in the internal affairs of other nations, that is not something inherent in who we are as a nation. This is something that we have learned through steady repetition over decades. It is a bad habit that can and should be broken and replaced with one of non-interference.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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