The Case Against Restraint

The Case Against Restraint
The USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Groups sail together in formation, in the South China Sea, July 6, 2020 (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jason Tarleton for U.S. Navy via AP Images).

Over the past decade or so, a school of thought known as “restraint” has been steadily gaining currency in the U.S. foreign policy establishment. While the idea encompasses a wide range of views and assumptions, proponents of restraint generally argue that in the wake of the Cold War, America overcommitted to its global responsibilities and stretched itself too thin, undertaking ill-conceived and costly military adventures while underwriting the security of allies in Europe and East Asia at a time when the strategic rationale of those alliances was hard to justify.

The so-called restrainers have been increasingly visible lately in media outlets and on Twitter. And in 2019, they got an institutional home in Washington, a new think tank called the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, set up with funding from a diverse array of foundations and philanthropists from across the political spectrum, including both Charles Koch and George Soros.

The restrainers’ most prominent talking points concern the follies of U.S. military adventurism in the Middle East and Afghanistan. But how well do their views and assumptions hold up elsewhere in the world? This week on Trend Lines, Thomas Wright joins WPR’s Elliot Waldman for a critical look at what a U.S. grand strategy of restraint would mean in practice.

Wright is the director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, where he is also a senior fellow in the Project on International Order and Strategy. He is the author of “All Measures Short of War: The Contest For the 21st Century and the Future of American Power” which was published in 2017. His second book, co-authored with Colin Kahl, “Aftershocks: Pandemic Politics and the End of the Old International Order,” will be published in August. Click here to read a partial transcript of the interview.


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Relevant Articles on WPR:
Getting to Restraint, Responsibly
The Rise of Restraint Is Shaking Up Washington
Engaged Restraint: A Framework for U.S. Foreign Policy After Trump
What Would ‘Restraint’ Really Mean for U.S. Foreign Policy?
What Would a U.S. Grand Strategy of Restraint Look Like?

Trend Lines is edited by Peter Dörrie, a freelance journalist and analyst focusing on security and resource politics in Africa. You can follow him on Twitter at @peterdoerrie.

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