An Indigestible Nation

The United States is now running the risk of war on three continents: arming Ukraine in the worst European war since World War II, deploying forces and shipping arms to Israel in the escalating violence in Gaza, and arming Taiwan amid rising tensions with China in the South China Sea, while continuing its “war on terror.” Despite a broad popular consensus that it is time to rebuild America at home, and a growing alarm at the perils of catastrophic climate change, the Biden administration is enmeshed in conflicts across the world.

President Biden justifies this because we are at “an inflection point in history,” when “the decisions we make today are going to determine the future for decades to come.” While the post–Cold War period is over and America’s “unipower moment” has passed, “American leadership,” Biden argues, is still “what holds the world together…. We are, as my friend Madeleine Albright said, ‘the indispensable nation.’”

In a recent Foreign Affairs article—“The Sources of American Power: A Foreign Policy for a Changed World”—Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan reviews the elements of what the administration touts as its transformed national security strategy. Sullivan offers a tour de monde. The Biden administration will rebuild our economy, take on Russia, save Ukraine and strengthen NATO, challenge China in the South China Sea and protect Taiwan, while forging new alliances across East Asia, continue to wage the War on Terror and create stability in the Middle East, and provide a “better value proposition” to the countries in Africa and Latin America, gearing up to deal with pandemics and global warming among other things.

The list of alliances renewed or forged, international agreements, economic initiatives, crises addressed is impressive. Glaringly absent, however, is any hint of a national strategy that inevitably must entail an assessment of capacity, a choice of priorities, an awareness of limits.