RSS
  • Foreign policy    April 29 
David Brooks: 'U.S. faces death by a thousand cuts'
Thinkstock
Thinkstock

In a way, writers are like restaurants: We usually only hear from our customers (or readers) when they complain.

Along those lines, New York Times columnist David Brooks gets more than his share of grief, so I thought I'd take a moment and compliment him on his latest column, "Saving the System." He makes several thought-provoking points.

First, Brooks does a pretty good job of answering the question: Why should we care what happens in Syria or Ukraine, etc.?:

The U.S. faces a death by a thousand cuts dilemma. No individual problem is worth devoting giant resources to. It's not worth it to spend huge amounts of treasure to establish stability in Syria or defend a Western-oriented Ukraine. But, collectively, all the little problems can undermine the modern system. No individual ailment is worth the expense of treating it, but, collectively, they can kill you. [New York Times]

Inherent in this analogy is the difficulty in motivating Americans to support intervention. After all, one cut isn't going to kill you, so, on any given occasion, a cost-benefit analysis won't warrant the trouble.

This, Brooks explains, is why it is inherently difficult to preserve liberal pluralistic society in the long run:

The weakness with any democratic foreign policy is the problem of motivation. How do you get the electorate to support the constant burden of defending the liberal system?

It was barely possible when we were facing an obviously menacing foe like the Soviet Union. But it's harder when the system is being gouged by a hundred sub-threshold threats. The Republicans seem to have given up global agreements that form the fabric of that system, while Democrats are slashing the defense budget that undergirds it.

Moreover, people will die for Mother Russia or Allah. But it is harder to get people to die for a set of pluralistic procedures to protect faraway places. It's been pulling teeth to get people to accept commercial pain and impose sanctions. [New York Times]

If you have never really understood the rationale for a hawkish foreign policy — if you think we should focus solely on "nation building at home" — then this is a pretty good explainer as to why many conservatives support policies that, on the surface, may seem absurd.

- - 
 
 
Load More Articles

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week