Most arguments calling for a reduced global profile for the United States are more developed than the crude “Let them kill each other.” Rather, they are usually sophisticated and shortsighted appeals to selfishness, to penuriousness, to fear, and to bigotry. Throughout history, there are more moments of quiet retreat and abdication than Chamberlainesque appeasement or Lindbergh-like isolationism. But forfeiting American leadership in the world is neither wise nor consistent with American values. Nor would it prevent others from acting to fill the vacuum in ways that threaten our security, prosperity, and well-being.
We no longer need to pledge in the soaring rhetoric of JFK that we will “pay any price, bear any burden” to ensure the survival of freedom in the world. As serious as our global challenges are, they are within our means to address while simultaneously handling pressing needs at home. Foreign aid represents one penny out of every federal dollar; military expenditures are at near-record lows as a percentage of GDP. We have many tools at our disposal that if deployed actively and consistently, can help avoid the need to go to war while still advancing our values and interests. And we have more democratic allies to help address global challenges than at any time in our history.