America in the World: Sheltering in Place

I On the third week of America’s quarantine against the pandemic, a new think tank in Washington had a message for the Pentagon. “The national security state, created to keep us safe and guard our freedoms, has failed,” Andrew Bacevich, the president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, told viewers on a Skype video from home, interspersed with the sounds of sirens and images of emergency rooms. While microbes from China were mutating and coming to kill us, he preached, we were wasting our time hunting terrorists and projecting military power abroad. It was a sequitur in search of a point — as if America ever faces only one danger at a time. When the black plague struck Europe and Asia in the fourteenth century, it did not mean that Mongol hordes would no longer threaten their cities. Nor does the coronavirus mean that jihadists are not plotting terror or that Russia is not threatening its neighbors or that China is not devouring Hong Kong. His casuistry aside, Bacevich was playing to the resentments of Americans who sincerely believe that American foreign policy is driven by an addiction to war. For the first two decades of post-cold war politics, this argument was relegated to the hallucinations of the fringe. But no more. A new national consensus had started to form before the plague of 2020: that there are almost no legitimate uses for American military power abroad, that our wars have been “endless wars,” and that our “endless wars” must promptly be ended. On the subject of American interventionism, there is no polarization in this notoriously polarized country. There is a broad consensus, and it is that we should stay out and far away. The concept of “endless wars” has its roots in the middle of the twentieth century.

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