What America needs today is a jubilant undertaker, someone—like Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan—who can bury the hubris of the past while convincing Americans that we are witnessing a wedding, not a funeral. The hubris of dominance, like the hubris of reason and the hubris of toughness before it, has crashed against reality’s shoals. Woodrow Wilson could not make politics between nations resemble politics between Americans. Lyndon Johnson could not halt every communist advance. And we cannot make ourselves master of every important region on earth. We have learned that there are prices we cannot pay and burdens we cannot bear, and our adversaries have learned it too. We must ruthlessly accommodate ourselves to a world that has shown, once again, that it is not putty in our hands.
How could our forefathers have been so cowardly and immoral? Stalin was a monster; so was Mao, and they both had nuclear weapons aimed at us. Why did we live with that sword of Damocles? Why did we accept their dominion over billions of souls? Once upon a time, the answer was obvious: Because we lacked the power not to. Franklin Roosevelt knew the American people would not sacrifice their sons by the thousands to keep Eastern Europe from Soviet hands. During Korea, Harry Truman blundered into war with Beijing, and realized that in Asia too, the price of denying America’s communist foes a sphere of influence was appallingly high. Even Ronald Reagan proved so reluctant to challenge Soviet control over Poland in the early eighties that conservative commentators accused him of betrayal. In different ways, all these presidents understood that in foreign policy, as in life, there are things you may fervently desire but cannot afford. And in foreign policy, the recognition that resources are limited, and precious, is even more important since you are not merely spending other people’s money; you are spilling other people’s blood.
If America continues to believe that we are the supreme power, that we need to be involved in all international disputes, and that the “American way” is the only way; America will have caused its own demise. We are slowly throwing away everything, we as Americans believe in. And for what?