[T]he United States must restore its standing in the international community, which has been eroded by too many extended hands of friendship to our adversaries, sometimes at the expense of our friends. Continued inaction in Syria, which has strengthened Moscow’s hand in the Middle East, and signs that we are desperate for a nuclear agreement with Iran cannot be separated from Putin’s recent actions. Radically declining U.S. defense budgets signal that we no longer have the will or intention to sustain global order, as does talk of withdrawal from Afghanistan whether the security situation warrants it or not. We must not fail, as we did in Iraq, to leave behind a residual presence. Anything less than the American military’s requirement for 10,000 troops will say that we are not serious about helping to stabilize that country.
The notion that the United States could step back, lower its voice about democracy and human rights and let others lead assumed that the space we abandoned would be filled by democratic allies, friendly states and the amorphous “norms of the international community.” Instead, we have seen the vacuum being filled by extremists such as al-Qaeda reborn in Iraq and Syria; by dictators like Bashar al-Assad, who, with the support of Iran and Russia, murders his own people; by nationalist rhetoric and actions by Beijing that have prompted nationalist responses from our ally Japan; and by the likes of Vladimir Putin, who understands that hard power still matters.
These global developments have not happened in response to a muscular U.S. foreign policy: Countries are not trying to “balance” American power. They have come due to signals that we are exhausted and disinterested. The events in Ukraine should be a wake-up call to those on both sides of the aisle who believe that the United States should eschew the responsibilities of leadership.