There's a lot of jaw-dropping statements in Bill Kristol's latest column, which attacks Rand Paul for what Kristol calls the senator's "McGovernite message." But I just want to highlight one particular passage in the piece:
It was (somewhat inexplicable) war weariness after the Cold War that led to a conviction in the 1990s, as Haley Barbour put it just last week, trying to accommodate the Paulistas, that "We're not the policeman of the world."
And thus we had the failure to finish the job in Iraq in 1991, the retreat under fire from Somalia in late 1993, inaction in Rwanda in 1994, years of dithering before confronting Milosevic in the Balkans, passivity in the face of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and weak responses to al Qaeda's attacks on U.S. embassies in 1998 and the USS Cole in 2000. That decade of not policing the world ended with 9/11.
To review: A decade that saw U.S. forces sent to Iraq, Somalia, the Balkans, and Haiti was actually an era in which Washington was "not policing the world," because the first two wars ended too early for Kristol's taste, the third started too late, the fourth slipped his mind, and there were some other wars he wished we'd entered as well. And the bombing raids in Sudan and southern Asia don't count because Kristol believes they were too weak. (Evidently poor policing doesn't count as policing at all.) In another decade Kristol will be calling the second Gulf War an outburst of isolationism on the grounds that the troops eventually left.
It's true that the 1990s were not as militarized as the decades that preceded and followed them. Pentagon spending declined, public opinion was more skeptical about intervention abroad, and without a grand enemy on the horizon the culture lacked that dreadful ambience of a permanent mobilization that had characterized the country before 1989 and returned after 9/11. But if the idea of policing the world was less popular in the '90s, the practice never went away. The empire never ended.