Free Minds & Free Markets

U.S. Foreign Policy Is Too Militarized

How the military became the most powerful diplomatic tool America has - and why that won't help win the fight against ISIS.

Does U.S. foreign policy always come down to the question of when and where to deploy the military?

It seemed that way in Tuesday night's GOP debate. While the candidates got a chance to showcase their foreign policy and diplomatic chops to the American voter, most of the time was spent bragging about who would be the more willing and able to use the military to accomplish national interests abroad. When and how did U.S. foreign policy become synonymous with military intervention?

"Ever since the beginning of the cold war," says Gordon Adams, emeritus professor of international politics at American University, "We built up a very substantial military and to some degree ever since then the instinct in American policy has been to say that the most useful tool to reach for to demonstrate American leadership, to demonstrate American commitment, to demonstrate American capacity is our military capability."

This heavy reliance on the military for diplomatic relations is actually hurting American national security, according to Adams. "As long as we imagine that we are both exceptional and indispensable in dealing with ISIS, we will fail," he says.

Adams, a former senior White House official for national security and foreign policy budgets under the Clinton administration, sat down with Reason TV's Nick Gillespie to give his thoughts on the recent GOP debate, why foreign policy has become so militarized, and why he thinks it won't help America win the fight against ISIS. 

About 9 minutes.

Produced by Amanda Winkler. Camera by Winkler and Joshua Swain. Music by Jingle Punks.

Subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube channel for daily content like this.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • bassjoe||

    Clearly, Nick and Amanda hate America's freedoms.

  • dantheserene||

    Someday, perhaps, these people will figure out that gunboat diplomacy only works when the wogs can neither travel nor gain access to weapons from small arms to NBC.

  • jmomls||

    Gunboat diplomacy might work if you didn't let the intended victims into the country by the thousands while you're bickering about what size shells to lob on their homelands.

  • Fun at Parties||

    They've forfeited their homelands and abandoned them. Sounds like a great way test new long range weapons so the rest of the world knows we can reach out and touch someone if needed.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Vladimir would love for us to test some of our new, long-range weapons, with his S-300s watching them the whole way.

  • ||

    That picture reminds me of something.

    That's right!


  • IceTrey||

    Bring home the troops and close all overseas bases. Warn the Muslim world that if they attack us we will nuke Mecca. Done.

  • Artimus||

    ^ Yes

  • Hank Phillips||

    But... what about jobs for officers? how is the military industrial complex going to provoke new wars? what about PENSIONS? Then again... at least it doesn't violate the First Amendment.

  • Hank Phillips||

    And serve BLTs, ham sandwiches and sausage at all prisons, lechón at Gitmo.

  • Chip Chipperson||

    That strategy would only work if they believed we'd actually nuke Mecca.

    They know we wouldn't, and so do we. Nuclear weapons are only a deterrent to the degree that your adversary believes you'll use them. Nobody believes we'd ever use them, otherwise there simply wouldn't be any wars anywhere.

    Best thing we can do to ensure an enduring peace at this point is to make an example of someone by nuking them (Raqqa and Dibiq come to mind), just to put it out there that we're not messing around. Then you'd see how quickly everything around the world quieted down. Sure you'd have a lot of hand-wringing but not a lot of people actually picking up guns.

  • wagnert in atlanta||

    "When and how did U.S. foreign policy become synonymous with military intervention?"

    When the State Department decided it was its duty to represent the world to us, not the other way around.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Note to foreign readers: just as "factional" and "ethnic" are American euphemisms to describe religious massacres, so "militaristic" describes the Republican Party's "We Stand at Armageddon and We're Fighting For The Lord" foreign policy.

  • Intraveneous Woodchipper||

    We might have other diplomatic tools left if BO wasn't such a pathetic, naive fool of a negotiator. Take, for example, his Russian reset button and the dismantling of the European missle shield ("But how was I to know a Fascist dictator would lie to me!") or his pathetic aqiesence to an Iranian nuke deal which is already broken ("How was I supposed to know the Islamo-fascist lunatic theocrats would lie to me?")

    Moving our battleships around the board is the only freaking play we've got left at this point.

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    Because the bloated, bureaucratic, mis-managed but nonetheless kick-ass American military manages to make the Department of State look f***ing pathetic, perhaps?

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    The peaceniks all want to say that ISIS was a result of the last Iraq war. True. But what they don't want to say is that maybe the US was in too much of a hurry to pull out, and that power vacuum (combined with the Arab false spring) that lead to ISIS. Will we go back there again? Yep, probably. Better agitate against the military some more. Bound to help.

  • Intraveneous Woodchipper||

    Which just goes to show, never pull out until you're finished.

  • Jr12||

    What foreign policy… diplomacy and the military have conflated into an internet game where armed social workers build sewer systems in foreign countries, while defending themselves from snipers and IEDs. Both heroes and villains try to evade UN coalitions flying overhead, bombing who ever is designated as the enemy on the UN’s Facebook page each day.

  • heart_of_flint||

    I'm not a fan military adventurism, but I disagree with some of his points. First, just because we outspend our potential adversaries does not mean that they lack capacity to challenge us. The Chinese don't need a blue water navy to conquer Taiwan, they just need to drive our navy back. So long as the US is committed to defending Taiwan, we will need a navy capable of that job, even if that means it must be much more capable of the PRC navy. Second, I don't think it's entirely fair to judge US military success by the number of wars we decisively win. Part of the US doctrine is to deter foreign aggression. I'm much happier with the resolution of the Cold War as is than if the Pentagon got to chalk up a big win in WWIII. The USSR was a dangerous military power, and the fact they chose disintegration over rolling the dice against NATO is a major achievement for the US military.

  • Jason Vick||


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online