Mollie Hemingway is dissatisfied with the state of foreign policy debate defined by two “extremes”:

Yes, the debate here is dominated by the “We must intervene across the globe and spread democracy” crowd and the “these global threats are always overrated” crowd.

It would be more accurate to say that our foreign policy debate is typically dominated by the former from both parties, and there are also a relative few operating at the edges of that debate that criticize U.S. policies and object to threat inflation. Hemingway doesn’t like either “extreme,” and wants there to be some alternative in between them. I’m not sure where Hemingway would put realists on this spectrum, and they would seem to be the most likely representatives of the view that she supports, but she doesn’t specifically mention them one way or the other. All of this is fine as far as it goes, but it’s also a rather odd complaint. Most policy debates are defined to a large degree by politicians and activists with diametrically opposing views, and those views tend to be strongly held and expressed. Most people are going to sympathize with one side of the debate more often than the other, which doesn’t require them to agree with everything its loudest and most active advocates say or write.

Hemingway has also chosen a curious example to illustrate her point. On the specific question of ISIS and the threat it poses to the U.S., one of the “extremes” that she rejects is substantially correct about the extent of the threat and the other is not. She quotes Nick Gillespie, who argues that Americans shouldn’t panic about ISIS and objects that the threat to America has been wildly exaggerated, but she doesn’t ever tell us why Gillespie is mistaken. He belongs to the “threats are overrated” crowd, and apparently that’s enough for his argument to be dismissed. The government has said once again that there is no evidence that ISIS has plans to attack the U.S. The group also lacks the ability to do so. So the threat from ISIS to the United States really has been greatly exaggerated over the last few weeks, and that has been fueling the public’s mistaken impression that the U.S. is at risk of being attacked by them. When hawks declare ISIS to be an “imminent” or “existential” threat, as some have done, they are wrong on the facts and they are irresponsibly exaggerating the dangers to the U.S., and they are doing so in order to frighten Americans into supporting policies whose costs and risks haven’t been seriously thought through or debated. This has nothing to do with being “naive about how bad the world is or how much of a threat some groups and countries pose.” It has to do with accurately judging foreign threats and devising appropriate responses to them.

Advertisement