Home/Daniel Larison/Clinton and the Immorality of ‘Get Caught Trying’ Foreign Policy

Clinton and the Immorality of ‘Get Caught Trying’ Foreign Policy

Aaron David Miller gives Clinton too much credit on foreign policy:

The reflex to be “caught trying” is ennobling and very much part of the American can-do spirit [bold mine-DL]—especially when set against Obama’s much-criticized “don’t do stupid stuff” mantra against taking action, which Clinton herself has derided as “not an organizing principle” worthy of a great nation. But is “get caught trying” any wiser a mantra for America’s approach to the world?

There doesn’t seem to be anything “ennobling” or admirable in making heedlessness into a virtue. No one should want to “get caught trying” if the thing being attempted is foolish and destructive. Clinton’s attitude seems to be that it doesn’t matter how much worse you make things as long as you were trying to make them better. The assumption behind this is that there are equal risks to “action” and “inaction,” but that’s very often not the case.

As far as the U.S. and its allies are concerned, there are almost always more risks in taking “action” (i.e., using force, arming rebels, etc.) than there is choosing not to do so. In almost every case, it is the smarter and safer play not to start an unnecessary war and not to send more weapons into a conflict, and one should be willing to court the dangers that come with those decisions very rarely. There usually aren’t “risks in both directions” for the U.S., and so the relevant questions are: is the risk worth taking, and if so why? The “get caught trying” mentality takes for granted that the greater danger is in avoiding unnecessary conflicts, and for that reason someone like Clinton always sees an excuse to intervene.

The idea that it’s better to “get caught trying” when the attempted action usually involves raining down death and destruction on other people is remarkable in its flippancy. This is related to the way that interventionists talk about the use of force or providing arms to insurgents in a foreign civil war. They favor “taking action” and “leading.” They rarely boast about their desire to have their government kill people in other countries, but that is in fact what they are calling for on a regular basis. If we strip away the euphemisms and the neutral language, we can see just how immoral the “get caught trying” approach really is. All things considered, they prefer to “get caught trying” to bomb and kill people in other countries, who typically have done nothing to the U.S. or its allies to warrant such treatment.

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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