Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Do we have a neo-imperial Washington versus an anti-imperial American public?

So supposes Andrew Sullivan, the blogfather, who writes that, "We have a neo-imperial apparatus in Washington and an anti-imperial public. At some point, one of those will have to give." Is he correct? I asked my favorite neo-imperialist, Tom Donnelly of AEI, what he thought. This is what he wrote back: If we could just ...

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Flickr

So supposes Andrew Sullivan, the blogfather, who writes that, "We have a neo-imperial apparatus in Washington and an anti-imperial public. At some point, one of those will have to give."

Is he correct?

I asked my favorite neo-imperialist, Tom Donnelly of AEI, what he thought. This is what he wrote back:

So supposes Andrew Sullivan, the blogfather, who writes that, "We have a neo-imperial apparatus in Washington and an anti-imperial public. At some point, one of those will have to give."

Is he correct?

I asked my favorite neo-imperialist, Tom Donnelly of AEI, what he thought. This is what he wrote back:

If we could just set aside the whole "imperial" construct, which excites without informing….

1. The climate in Washington seems to me profoundly different than in past, which I would say is a generational matter. The center of political opinion is an amalgam of Barack Obama and Ted Cruz, who share little except a belief that foreign policy doesn’t matter and that military power isn’t important.

2. The public doesn’t know what to think. Americans would never describe themselves as "imperialistic," even when we act that way. Conversely, there’s still a pretty strong "Don’t Tread On Me/America Should be Number One" sentiment, or at least I think so. The public is not getting much guidance from the political elites of either party.

3. It’s going to be hard to know if there’s been a fundamental shift until something really, really bad happens. When it does — as it always does — we will either snap back to past practice (which will also require, regardless of the particulars, a significant defense reinvestment; we are probably already at the point where we are no longer capable of a rapid and large response), or we won’t. I wouldn’t want to bet the mortgage either way.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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