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The Poisonous Obsession with “Resolve” in Foreign Policy

David French reads the same James Rubin passage I criticized earlier, but predictably reaches a very different conclusion:

I suspect he’s correct in his conclusion, but his comparison to World War I helps demonstrate how unjustified and shameful our lost resolve is. We act weak in the aftermath of the Iraq War not because we’ve been defeated or rendered weak by vast casualties — like those of the Western Front in World War I — but because we choose to be weak.

I’m trying to come up with a word to describe this reaction other than crazy, but I’m having a hard time finding a better one. If Americans are less inclined to have the U.S. fight in more unnecessary wars after an unnecessary war that lasted almost nine years, that isn’t weakness. It’s sanity. A nation that can’t distinguish between avoidable wars of choice and wars to defend its legitimate interests is not in any sense a strong one, but one that is destined to exhaust itself through endless conflict.

Of course, Rubin’s WWI comparison is ridiculous, but French’s obsession with “resolve” is worse. When French refers to resolve here, he’s talking about support for military action in conflicts where no U.S. interests are at stake. If Americans have lost the “resolve” to start unnecessary wars or involve the U.S. in other countries’ ongoing internal conflicts, that suggests that the Iraq war may have had some salutary effect on the way that Americans think about using force overseas. Invoking “resolve” or willpower as a virtue and as the solution to virtually every policy problem has become so common among dead-ender Iraq war supporters that it has long since passed the point of self-parody, but it’s worth remembering that it is exactly this sort of mindless posturing about “resolve” and “strength” that helped warp the pre-war debate in 2002-03. It was nonsense then, and it still is today.

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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