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There is a long and distinguished school of American statesmen--from Dwight Eisenhower to Henry Kissinger to Robert Gates--who believe that America helps enlarge the scope of freedom around the world by staying strong; husbanding its power; creating a stable, liberal order; and encouraging economic and political reform. (The most brilliant academic exponent of this view, Kenneth Waltz, died May 13 at 88.) It is central to this mission that America is disciplined about its military interventions.
Perhaps because the U.S. has had no rival since the end of the Cold War, some seem to believe that any bad thing that happens in the world could be stopped if only the American President would act. Stephens bemoans the fact that Vladimir Putin is putting opponents in prison. What exactly should the U.S. do about this, other than protest, which it has done? President Bush was not able to stop the Iraqi government--while the entire country was under American occupation--from doing the very same thing.
We have just gone through a decade devoted to a very different idea: that American power must be used actively, pre-emptively and in pursuit of expansive goals beyond the narrow national interest. The result was thousands of American soldiers dead, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians dead and millions ethnically cleansed, $2 trillion spent and the erosion of American influence and goodwill across the globe. Can we get a few years of respite to rebuild our economic, political and moral capital?
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