Our Latest Research and Writing
The president of the ACLU, Professor Susan Herman, recently debated the proposition that "Our government is doing the terrorists' work for them by undermining our way of life and our liberties." She presented highly troubling cases in what she called government "dragnets" leading to the arrest and long detention of innocent people. She railed against the lack of transparency and the chilling effects of investigating leaks to the press. I was supposed to take the other side. I could do so by claiming that hordes of brutal ISIS terrorists could sneak across our porous borders any day; that terrorists could take out any one of our cities with a nuclear bomb; and that our water reservoirs -- for instance that of Washington DC -- were not protected by more than three seagulls. Instead I tried to make the case for policy analysis instead of one-sided advocacy. This is a thesis that deserves some elaboration.
I used the occasion of my invitation to deliver the keynote address at the closing ceremonies of the 2014 Beijing Forum to meet with a group of Chinese students. I found them to be more interactive than they were during my previous trips. They were more willing not only to ask questions, but also to comment on my presentations, although they delivered all their comments in a congenial manner. (The one student who struck a discordant note turned out to be an American studying in Beijing.)
The post-mortem of the midterm elections is widely held to show that people are more concerned about economic stagnation than about any of the specific policies Democrats promote, such as climate control, immigration reform, and Internet neutrality. My interviews with middle-class Americans reveal that many are even more concerned with losing what they have than with gaining more of the same. True, they are bitter that their real income has not increased for years on end, and they sense that they will be unable to provide a better life for their children than they had. However, they are even more concerned about the fact that they are no longer sure that the job they have will be there tomorrow; that Social Security will be there when they retire; and that their pension fund will not be retroactively diluted and is properly funded. They are even more alarmed about the future of Medicare, which they are told will go broke in the near future, and they are not at all sure that they can afford the "affordable" Obamacare, which does not cap the costs of the health insurance access that it provides. They read about millions who have been kicked out of their homes in recent years. In short, they feel insecure, and for good reason.
In his important new book Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy, Barry R. Posen raises one more call for restraint, although he reaches this conclusion in a distinct way uniquely his own. Posen finds that the United States has fallen prey to the illusion that it can – indeed, is being called upon to – bring to the nations of the world a democratic, stable form of government and a prosperous way of life to boot. He calls this thesis “liberal hegemony” and points out that its experiences in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan should have made the United States realize that it cannot make this vision come true. The United States should therefore stop all its efforts at coercive state- and nation-building and limit its overseas interventions to those situations in which its major national interests are involved.