Real leadership also requires humility. Nobel Prize-winniugrneconouiist F.A. Hayek wrote of the “fatal conceit” of social planners,rnwhich is at work in U.S. foreign policy today. What is thisrnfatal conceit? Tlie belief that Washington has the wisdom andrnabilit)’ to order events in distant societies without regard to history.rnThe belief that one can loose the dogs of war and controlrnwhere they run. The belief that U.S. polihcal leaders have thernmoral authority to use militarv’ force whenever they desire to engagernin internahonal social engineering.rnIronically, Washington’s abusive and arrogant “leadership”rnmay ultimately linrit American influence by encouraging otherrnnations to cooperate in order to constrain U.S. power. BothrnChina and Russia are prepared to resist American hegemony,rnhrdia has begun to move closer to its old enemy, China, to forgerna countervailing coalition. During the war against Yugoslavia,rnNew f^elhi lauded its nascent atomic arsenal as a means ofrnkeeping the peace, a comment clearly directed at the world’srnsole remaining superpower; hidian hawks are pressing for a significantrnnuclear deterrent capable of striking America, hi time,rnthese nations—along wifli more independent European states,rnlike France, and emerging powers, like Brazil and Indonesia —rnmay actively oppose pretentious U.S. claims to global “leadership.”rnThe most serious argument for American intervention inrnKosovo was humanitarian. Yet it was quite impossible to takernthe administration’s moralizing seriously. Death tolls in thernmillions (Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Sudan, Rwanda, Tibet),rnhimdreds of thousands (Burundi, East Timor, Guatemala,rnLiberia, Mozambique), and tens of thousands (Algeria, Chechnya,rnCongo, Kashmir, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Tiukcy) arerncommon. The estimated death toll in Kosovo was exceededrneven by the number of dead in Northern Ireland’s sectarian violence.rnYet in none of these cases did Western leaders rise to expressrnrile outrage of the “international community,” let alonernpropose taking action. (In September, Australia led a numberrnof states in establishing a peacekeeping force in East Timor, butrnCanberra acted only with tiic consent of Jakarta and after standingrnbv during a quarter-centim’ of mass violence in the territor}’.^’rn^rnSimilarly, 7.5 million people have fled violent strife in Africa.rnOver the last decade, hundreds of thousands of people havernbeen displaced from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,rnand Uzbekistan. The government of Bhutan “cleansed”rnmore than 100,000 ethnic Nepalese in the 1990’s. There arern3.6 million refugees in the Middle F.ast. In these cases, too, thernsupposed guardians of human rights have been almost entirelyrnsilent.rnPerhaps nowhere is this cynicism more evident flian in therncase of Turkey. Like Serbia, Ankara regards separatist guerrillasrnas terrorists. A quarter-century ago, Turkey invaded Cyprus,rncreated a Turkish zone, and “ethnically cleansed” its occupiedrnterritory of some 165,000 ethnic Creeks. Like Serbia, Turkeyrnspeaks of protecting its ethnic co-nationals from violence. Yetrndie United States not only treats Ankara as an ally; it providesrnmany of the weapons which Turkey has used to prosecute itsrnwars, and Washington enlisted Ankara in its crusade against ethnicrncleansing in Kosovo.rnThere is an alternative to this policy of promiscuous meddling.rnIt could be called many things—noninter’cntion,rnstrategic independence, or military disengagement—but notrnisolationism. America can, and should, be highly engaged internationally,rnmaintaining an open economic market, compassionatelyrnaccepting refugees and immigrants, spreading art,rnmusic, and other cultural goods, and cooperating politically.rnThe philosophical point is simple: The dut)’ of the U.S. governmentrnis, first and foremost, to protect its own citizens, theirrnlives, freedom, and propert}’, and the system of ordered libertyrnin which they live. It is not to meddle abroad in pursuit of evenrngood ends. The lives and propert)- of Americans are not gambitrnpawns for politicians to sacrifice in some global chess game.rnWashington believes tiiat flic United States could reshapernthe world if only we could amass enough power and resources.rnThis presumes tiiat Washington policymakers know more tiianrneveryone else, and that other peoples, governments, and nationsrnare shapeless lumps of clay, anxiously waiting to be molded.rnThis theory has proved Consider only riie experiencernof this century. I’lie Treaty of Versailles sought to remakernthe world; tvvo decades later the system came crashing down, asrnmost of the globe was engulfed in a terrible war. Americanrnmeddling in Vietiiam, Iran, Nicaragua, Iraq, Somalia, TTaiti,rnZaire, and elsewhere has only added to human misery.rnWhen assessing a conflict that seems to require U.S. intervention,rnpolicymakers have asked, “Why not?” when theyrnshould have asked, “So what?” They should a.ssess whetiier flicrn”what” affects vital, important, or only marginal interests. Theirrnresponse should vary depending upon tiie importance of the interestrnat stake. A tiireat to the nation’s veiy survival—a la nuclearrnwar with flic Soviet Union —is ver- different from an isolatedrninstance of chaos within chaos—say, a three-way civil warrnin Liberia. The first requires official action; flic second doesrnnot Washington also needs to assess whether other actors canrnhandle regional contingencies. Surely South Korea, wifli 30rntimes riie productivity and twice the population of North Korea,rnis capable of defending itself So is Japan. And Europe.rnEven if the only possible response is U.S. niilitan’action, policymakersrnshould still weigh the costs and benefits of getting involved.rnPcriiaps Europe was unwilling to act in Kosovo withoutrnthe United States. But any serious weighing of costs and benefitsrnwould have militated against intervention.rnAmerica should vigorously defend its vital interests. ButrnWashington should accept tiiat tiie world will be a messy place,rnand that not all messes can be cleaned up—certainly not by thernUnited States. We should cooperate with flic United Nationsrnor other states when it is advantageous to do so, but we shouldrnnot sacrifice our own interests to those of other international actors.rnIn the end, the United States should be tiie distant balancer,rnnot the immediate meddler.rnAs America’s foreign policy changes, so should its force structure.rnInstead of spending $280 billion a year on die military,rnWashington could spend $1 50 billion. Instead of keeping 1.4rnmillion people in uniform, America could lower its trooprnstrength to 850,000. Rather than 11 carrier groups, the UnitedrnStates could get by with six. ‘This would still leave America witiirnriie largest, most advanced, and most effective military on earfli,rncapable of defending itself and cooperating witii friendly statesrnto preserve shared interests.rn’The United States enjoys many advantages and will remain arnsuperpower almost in spite of itself Washington should remainrnengaged and even exercise leadership, but it should not hector,rncontrol, or impose on otiier nations. In short, America shouldrnreturn to a foreign and military policy befitting a republic,rnrariier than an empire. In this way, the United States would bestrnpreserve its independence and freedom. crnMARCH 2000/15rnrnrn