Nobody expects Chile to follow up its words with actions. Sometimes, though, you’ve just got to take a stand in much the way that an editorialist might. But precisely because the United States has a lot of military assets at our disposal that clearly aren’t needed to repel a Canadian invasion, it’s difficult to find a middle ground between turning a blind eye to atrocities and calls for military intervention. ~Matt Yglesias

The question that presents itself is this: why does Chile hate freedom?

In fact, it is not that difficult for Americans to find a middle ground “between turning a blind eye to atrocities and calls for military intervention.” We find that middle ground all the time. Sometimes it takes the form of supporting sanctions that are often useless or counterproductive, and sometimes it takes the form of a rebuke in private when the government is otherwise cooperative on matters of security. Eric Martin is right that this is one of the first steps towards armed confrontation, but we are generally satisfied to stop at sanctions when the state is the client of another major power (e.g., Burma, North Korea) or too marginal to warrant additional attention. What is difficult is keeping the government from acceding to the wishes of a vocal minority that insists on frequently using the military to respond to repressive tactics or internal conflicts in other countries.

Where Yglesias goes wrong here is in attributing this mostly to excess military capacity. The excess military capacity accounts for why the impulse to “do something” does not result in greater disasters than it has, but it does not explain why the government yields to this impulse as often as it does. The U.S. doesn’t just intervene in so many places because it can, but because a substantial part of its political class wants to do so and considers not doing so to be wrong. Yglesias greatly underestimates the importance of ideology and specifically the belief that the nation has a mission and a responsibility to the rest of the world. The U.S. military could be reduced to a tenth of its current size, but until we rid ourselves of the idea that the internal conflicts of other countries are legitimately our concern our government will keep looking for and finding ways to intervene. The British government’s behavior in the last year is instructive. Cameron’s government engaged in deep austerity cuts in its military budget. Given British deficits, this was an understandable move provided that they didn’t intend to keep launching major military expeditions. Unfortunately, Cameron and many of his Cabinet ministers continued to believe that Britain had to “punch above its weight” after having put Britain on a diet, and some of them were ideologically committed to the idea that Britain must intervene for humanitarian and democracy-promoting reasons.