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The Foreign Policy Generation Gap

Stephen Peter Rosen wants to convince younger Americans that interventionism isn’t so bad. If he’s trying to persuade skeptics, he’s off to a remarkably poor start:

Now consider how many Americans in their 20s, 30s and 40s view the world. The Cold War to them was unnecessary—a tense and massively expensive arms race for little if any gain. The minor triumphs of the 1990s to them seem unimportant and related somehow to what is uppermost in their minds: the long and painful failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For my part, this description is an inaccurate as it is condescending. While there were many terrible policies carried out during the Cold War in the name of anticommunism, I have never thought that opposing the USSR was unnecessary. However, because younger Americans grew up at the tail end of the Cold War or after its end, most of us also have no particular attachment to that era, nor do most of us have any enthusiasm for returning to policies that try to revive it or use it as a model for understanding contemporary threats. Some of the “triumphs” of the ’90s were rather dubious ones for the sake of questionable causes, and others created the conditions for the following decade’s prolonged warfare. It’s true that younger Americans are mostly not that impressed by them, but then why would they be? Insofar as they encouraged the U.S. into making the massive blunders of the 2000s, they have proven to be very harmful “triumphs” indeed.

For most people in my generation, our first exposure to contemporary U.S. foreign wars came from the invasion of Panama and Desert Storm, and if anything we were more likely to grow up with more confidence in U.S. military power than our parents had rather than less. That was a mistake born of very limited experience and knowledge, which has been corrected in the years that followed. We came of age when the U.S. was still being described as a “hyperpower,” and then watched as U.S. foreign policy became even more excessively militarized than it was in our youth. All our lives, we have heard bogus warnings about “isolationism,” and at the same time we have seen the U.S. become increasingly intrusive and meddlesome overseas. Having been subjected to the constant exaggeration of foreign threats for at least half of our lives, most of us are naturally inclined to be skeptical about such warnings. When many of the same people that urged the U.S. into one of its worst foreign policy blunders start warning us about new dangers, we don’t take them seriously because we know their judgment can’t be trusted. Frankly, we don’t need to be lectured about safeguarding the national interest by those that have done such an incredibly poor job of it over the last twenty years.

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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