Courtesy Reuters

When U.S. President Barack Obama described a multipronged strategy designed to “degrade, and ultimately destroy,” the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, also known as the Islamic State) in a national address two weeks ago, some interpreted his remarks as a break with his administration’s policies of retrenchment. Writing for Business Insider, the journalist Michael Kelley characterized the speech as “a radical shift in the administration's intentional withdrawal from the Middle East.” The journalist Jeffrey Goldberg observed in The Atlantic that the president has “learned that there is no way out” of the Middle East. New Yorker staff writer John Cassidy concluded, “The realist has relented,” going “a long way in a short time” on the need for military engagement. And as New York Times editorial board warned, “The Slippery Slope Begins.”

This new consensus is mistaken. Retrenchment remains the guiding principle of U.S. foreign policy and will likely remain so as long as the

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