America Historically Had a Restrained Foreign Policy: Its Time to Return to It
Finally, civil society would perform far better under restraint. Individual freedom and democracy flourish in a state of peace, and as Alexis de Tocqueville noted, “No protracted war can fail to endanger the freedom of a democratic country.” Primacy has placed the United States on a permanent war footing—in fact, President Barack Obama had the unfortunate distinction of becoming the first U.S. leader to be at war every day of his presidency. This has had damaging effects for American society, including undermining civil liberties, fostering the rise of a massive surveillance state and consolidating power in the executive. A foreign policy that commits more to peace at home than conflict abroad would permit a domestic resurgence of the same values we are trying to export to others by force.
Foreign policy imposes a substantial, though often hidden, footprint on the life of every American. Everything from how safe Americans are abroad and at home to the fiscal health of our government to even the interest rates on our mortgages are impacted by decisions made in the foreign policy arena. Despite the tremendous path dependency in our institutions for continuing to pursue primacy, there is compelling evidence that a strategy of restraint would yield far better outcomes for the nation. The United States enjoyed substantial peace and prosperity when it pursued such an approach in the past, and our current preeminent great power rival, China, has been extraordinarily successful in pursuing a similar strategy of “peaceful rise.” Perhaps it is time to return to our roots, and reconsider restraint as an option.
Enea Gjoza is a student at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Image: U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Joaquin Spikes, assigned to the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command, securely straps his gas mask during a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear scenario as part of the 2017 Army Materiel Command's Best Warrior Competition July 17, 2017, at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. Flicker / U.S. Department of Defense