Ending Our Military-First Foreign Policy

By Monica Duffy Toft
Originally Published in The American Conservative

Our interventions have only gotten worse and more counterproductive. It’s time to remember what made America great in the first place.

When you live in a country, it can be difficult to get a sense of how it’s viewed from the outside. Many in the United States have worried that over the past few decades a tradition of U.S. “leadership” in global affairs has become less about the example we set in terms of the rule of law, the nature of our economy, and citizen participation in all aspects of our national policy, and more about cracking skulls abroad. But until recently, it was still difficult to judge.

Beyond our two big overseas commitments—Iraq and Afghanistan—military operations have by and large been increasingly opaque. Much has been done with drones and special operations forces. Along with this, U.S. diplomatic efforts and resources have dramatically receded into the background. We need to face the fact that the United States has become a hyper-interventionist and unilateral power. More bluntly, it has become a bully in the international arena.

The Congressional Research Service estimates that the wars since 2001 have cost American taxpayers $1.5 trillion, while nearly 7,000 service members have been killed and 53,000 wounded. Our reputation has also been diminished globally—our power and influence is increasingly seen as a major threat as much by our long-time allies and friends as by our enemies.

For the past three years, I’ve been directing the Military Intervention Project (MIP), which identifies and tracks U.S. interventions since the founding of the country. There have been over 500 of them. MIP also measures the quality of those interventions, and this is where the data get scary.

Consider that in the early stages of the country’s founding, the U.S. was primarily focused on occupying the lands around it and killing and/or controlling the peoples within it. It was only after World War II, when the United States emerged as not only a survivor but a victor, that it became what we would recognize as an interventionist state, as it competed with the Soviet Union for global dominion. Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed, U.S. military interventions did not diminish. In fact, they increased.


Leave a Reply