None of these objectives has much of anything to do with preserving American independence, liberties and prosperity. But pursuing these goals would cost as much if not more than defending the United States: maintaining strategic nuclear and conventional forces capable of defeating (not just deterring) a rebounding great power and an incipient great power, as well as large enough ground forces to garrison failed states (not just U.S. territories) for years. Every increase in Chinese and Russian military spending would require a much larger U.S. increase. Every additional failed state would force another expansion of American ground forces.
The cost would not just be financial. If pursuit of these objectives went awry-especially if deterrence against China or Russia failed-the consequence could be a devastated homeland as well as wasted money. Neither China nor Russia is the equivalent of Serbia or Iraq. War with the first two would be very different than war with the latter two.
The second choice is to put defense back into defense policy. The United States should maintain a military sufficient to deter or defeat attack on America by any enemy or likely coalition of enemies. Washington should possess the air and naval capacity necessary to keep hostile forces away from the American homeland. And the United States should have the ability to, if necessary, join with allied states to prevent an antagonistic hegemonic power from dominating Eurasia. In short, Washington should aim to keep America as the world's strongest power, the first among equals, but not the arrogant unipower, determined to meddle in everyone else's affairs and fight everyone else's wars.
"War is the health of the state" Randolph Bourne famously declared. He was right. War is the ultimate big government program-a direct attack on individual liberty, fiscal responsibility, moral values and family stability. It always should be a last rather than first resort, never a matter of "choice" by ivory-tower warriors bent on remaking the world at everyone else's expense.
The conservative movement isn't dead, but its wounds are serious. To revive, the Right needs to offer a genuine alternative to the traditional liberalism likely to dominate policy in the Obama administration. No where is that more necessary than in foreign affairs. Let President Barack Obama propose sacrificing American lives and money to reform the world. Let conservatives insist that Washington defend America rather than populous and prosperous allies and favor the protection of American liberties over the dream of global social engineering. That is a political battle the Right would win.
Doug Bandow is the Robert A. Taft Fellow at the American Conservative Defense Alliance. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of Foreign Follies: America's New Global Empire (Xulon).