The United States is questioning the global role it once embraced. As many want to shed the burden of international commitments, Foreign Affairs asks: “Is it time for America to come home?”

The Folly of Retrenchment

“Global retrenchment is fast emerging as the most coherent and readymade alternative to the United States’ postwar strategy. Yet pursuing it would be a grave mistake,” writes Thomas Wright of Brookings. “By dissolving U.S. alliances and ending the forward presence of U.S. forces, this strategy would destabilize the regional security orders in Europe and Asia.”

The Price of Primacy

“Washington’s post–Cold War strategy has failed,” Quincy Institute’s Stephen Wertheim writes. “The United States should abandon the quest for armed primacy in favor of protecting the planet and creating more opportunity for more people. It needs a grand strategy for the many.”

The New Spheres of Influence

“Unipolarity is over, and with it the illusion that other nations would simply take their assigned place in a U.S.-led international order,” writes Harvard’s Graham Allison. “For the United States, that will require accepting the reality that there are spheres of influence in the world today—and that not all of them are American spheres.”

Reality Check

“With China on the rise, Russia defiant, and the United States’ liberal international coalition weakened from within, Washington faces a much more constrained environment,” write Dartmouth professors Jennifer Lind and Daryl G. Press. “A foreign policy that neglects that fact will stymie cooperation and set the United States on a collision course with its rivals.”

Learning to Live With Despots

“Greater security, some economic growth, and the better provision of some services is the best the United States can hope for in most countries,” writes Stanford’s Stephen D. Krasner. “Achieving good enough governance is feasible, would protect U.S. interests, and would not preclude progress toward greater democracy down the road.”

Getting to Less

“The closer one looks at the details of military spending, the clearer it becomes that although radical defense cuts would require dangerous shifts in strategy, there are savings to be had,” writes Kathleen Hicks of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Getting them, however, would require making politically tough choices, embracing innovative thinking, and asking the armed forces to do less than they have in the past.”

 

Also in this issue:

Why America Must Lead Again

In his most comprehensive article thus far in the presidential campaign season, former Vice President and Democratic candidate for president Joseph R. Biden, Jr., presents a scathing critique of President Donald J. Trump’s actions in the world and lays out his foreign policy agenda. “Trump’s disastrous foreign policy record reminds us every day of the dangers of an unbalanced and incoherent approach, and one that defunds and denigrates the role of diplomacy.”

How the Good War Went Bad

There were fleeting opportunities to find peace, or at least a more sustainable, less costly, and less violent stalemate in Afghanistan, writes Carter Malkasian. But, “American leaders failed to grasp those chances, thanks to unjustified overconfidence following U.S. military victories and thanks to their fear of being held responsible if terrorists based in Afghanistan once again attacked the United States.”

The Epidemic of Despair

Princeton economist Anne Case and Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton compare rising number of deaths of despair—fatalities caused by drug overdose, alcoholic liver disease, or suicide—in the United States with other Western countries. “In 2017 alone, there were 158,000 deaths of despair, the equivalent of three fully loaded Boeing 737 max jets falling out of the sky every day for a year.”

The Digital Dictators

“In contrast to what technology optimists envisioned at the dawn of the millennium, autocracies are benefiting from the Internet and other new technologies, not falling victim to them,” write Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Erica Frantz, and Joseph Wright. Rather, as their newly compiled data shows, “Technology does not necessarily favor those seeking to make their voices heard or stand up to repressive regimes.”

Too Big to Prevail

Big Tech’s defenders often point to national security as a reason to not break up powerful Silicon Valley firms. This is precisely wrong, argues Ganesh Sitaraman: “Rather than threatening to undermine national security, breaking up and regulating Big Tech is necessary to protect the United States’ democratic freedoms and preserve its ability to compete with and defend against new great-power rivals.”

Saving America's Alliances

The U.S. alliance system is in decline and needs to be renovated, rather than scrapped or restored to its Cold War glory, argues Mira Rapp-Hooper of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Faced with cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns, economic coercion, and more, Washington needs its alliance system to preserve order.”

Mean Streets

One of the world’s biggest killers gets little media attention: car crashes, in which 1.35 million people died in 2016—a grisly 3,698 deaths a day. “Traffic injuries are now the top killer of people aged five to 29 globally,” and the economic losses from crashes are estimated at three percent of global GDP, note Janette Sadik-Khan and Seth Solomonow, who call for governments to fundamentally rethink urban infrastructure by narrowing roads, reducing speed limits, and reorganizing the flows of traffic.

he Dismal Kingdom

In a review of two recently published books on the influence of economics, Nobel Prize winner Paul Romer argues that “No economist has a privileged insight into questions of right and wrong, and none deserves a special say in fundamental decisions about how society should operate. Economists who argue otherwise and exert undue influence in public debates about right and wrong should be exposed for what they are: frauds.”