Is America in Retreat? A Conversation with Bret Stephens

with Bret Stephens

This edition of Liberty Law Talk discusses with the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens his recent book, America in Retreat. Stephens argues that an America which declines to engage globally with its military is accepting a false promise of peace at the expense of rising disorder. The introduction chapter is entitled “The World’s Policeman” where Stephens quotes President Barack Obama’s proclamation in a 2013 speech: “We should not be the world’s policeman.” Similarly, Rand Paul states that “America’s mission should always be to keep the peace, not police the world.” “This book,” says Stephens, “is my response to that argument.”

Our conversation focuses on the foreign policy choices that America should make by considering the factors that must be weighed and analyzed to make those decisions. Here, we disagree on foreign policy and strategy. If we believe, as Stephens argues, that “No great power can treat foreign policy as a spectator sport and hope to remain a great power,” then what, exactly, will that require? What are the ends that we seek, and what are the means at our disposal for pursuing a particular course? Why is a certain regional or national disorder in a part of the world America’s problem to remedy? How is that determination made?

While there is plenty of discussion on foreign policy here, Stephens also notes the strength of America. To Stephens’ credit he argues against the declinist talk we’ve seen take hold in recent thinking on America’s future. He marshals important data and tantalizing anecdotes that indicates something very much the opposite. Stephens observes the ways that elites from supposedly rising nations like China keep connecting their fortunes and their families to America. What do they know about us and about their own country that we choose to forget or ignore in our bemoaning of America? This conversation reminds us that for America decline is very much a choice. We can and should choose the better course.