The world is not kind to isolationists, timid American presidents and critics of American power (there is some overlap there). The great paradox of U.S. foreign policy is that the more we retreat, the more we are sucked in (belatedly) to crises not of our own making and are victimized by opportunistic rogue states.

Hamid Karzai and President Obama Hamid Karzai, left, and President Obama (Jason Reed/Reuters)

Former senators Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl remind us in a joint op-ed that the Senate has fewer grownups since their retirements. They warn:

Rather than cutting first and then asking how we can manage with what’s left, we must define our priorities and interests — and only then determine how to allocate resources. If the United States is still committed to fostering a freer and more democratic world, supporting free trade, maintaining international stability and meeting threats abroad, then there must be a reasoned discussion of the ways in which diplomatic retrenchment and military budget cuts may limit our capacity to achieve those critical national goals.

Just as the benefits of U.S. global leadership are often ignored, so, too, are the costs of retrenchment. Proposed cuts in aid and military strength, especially when implemented under strategic guidance that calls for a “small footprint” in the world, will affect our ability to deter the threats posed by Iran, North Korea, Syria, a more assertive China, al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations and individuals. U.S. disengagement will also foster the emergence of military, diplomatic or economic forces that will fill the vacuum created by our absence.

And if you doubted the accuracy of their worldview, you need only look at what President Obama has reaped. We now face a decimated Syria, overrun by jihadists and with a dictator who is violating Obama’s personal warning against using chemical weapons. Our secretary of state unbelievably blathers about a “special relationship” with China (is Cuba far behind?) while China’s human rights atrocities multiply and the country unnerves our allies in Asia. Just as in Syria, we avert our eyes from the threat of Iran’s WMDs and dawdle while the centrifuges keep spinning.

It’s not easy — indeed, it’s impossible — for Obama to both disclaim hard power and assert that we are improving our standing in the world.

Likewise, it is not easy for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to maintain a Ron Paul-lite foreign policy outlook (minus the bizarro conspiracy theories), please his ardent base and preserve the aura of presidential-caliber credibility. He’s spent the week fencing with his base, denying that he has changed position on drone use. He claims to have always recognized that we might need to zap terrorists who are an imminent threat to the United States. He may be right that he carved out some room for reasonable self-defense during his 13-hour filibuster, but that is not going to satisfy the tin-foil-hat set nor those convinced, like Obama, that the less we do the safer we are.

Even more ominous for Paul is a video, circulated with no attribution, going after him for denying the United States is a battlefield:


Yowser. Yes, post-Boston, his admonition sounds like Obama-level denial and not a sensible critique of the jihadist menace.

National security policy should follow the facts. We should not deny reality in order to shirk from the policy implications. The dreaded “politicizing of national security” that the left used to rail against has now become standard operating procedure for those who don’t want the United States to act decisively in the world. Sure, the U.S. objectives were achieved in Afghanistan (wink, wink) so we can withdraw. Maybe it was just a tiny-weeny bit of chemical weapons in Syria . . .  so we don’t have to act militarily. There is still, umm, plenty of time — plenty! — to talk to Iran about nuclear weapons. Dangerous denial and deliberate ignorance abound; the result is faulty or nonexistent policy and an increasingly dangerous world.

For the right, the United States is too good for the world. For the left, the world is too good for us. Both miss the point; the United States is the best hope for a more peaceful, stable and free world, and without our leadership we become less safe. The excessive optimism about the Arab Spring and the underestimation of the difficulties of U.S. military action shoud temper our policy decisions, but they are no excuse for denying reality.

The West is less safe than when the president took office. Al-Qaeda has seeped into North Africa and now operates out of Iran; Iran is on the cusp of nuclear weapons  capability; North Korea is undeterred; and Syrian carnage and chemical weapons risk destabilizing the entire region. Worst of all, we lack sober, clear-eyed leadership. Unless the president gets a spinal implant and gives up his dream of leaving the West’s safety to the auspices of multilateral bodies, it is only going to get worse.