America as sheriff, not a policeman In Syria, Trump is steering between isolationism and interventionism
Isolationists on the right say: “So what? Beyond our borders, it’s not our business.” They will appear to be correct until it becomes obvious they were disastrously wrong, as they were in the 1930s when they contended that the United States should do nothing to stop the Nazis and Japanese imperialists. (The most hardcore isolationists on the right still believe that.)
Isolationists on the left agree but for a different reason: They see America as oppressive, and they are oddly unconcerned about what Chinese communists do to Uighurs and Tibetans, what But he will appoint deputies, and raise a posse to stop the worst outlaws from riding roughshod throughout the territory.
This concept is not new. Back in 1997, a time when most people still believed Russia was democratizing and China moderating, a time when jihad was a word seldom heard, Richard Haass, a diplomat and scholar, now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote a book titled “The Reluctant Sheriff: The United States After the Cold War.” In it, he noted that the policeman has “a greater degree of authority, a greater capacity to act alone and a greater need to act consistently than is being advocated here. By contrast, a sheriff must understand his lack of clear authority in many instances, his need to work with others, and, above all, the need to be discriminating in when and how he engages.”
Mr. Haass likened posses to coalitions that “will vary from
Unlike the cop on the beat, the lawman in the Wild West isn’t expected to make arrests for every transgression. He doesn’t worry about the painted ladies and the gamblers in the saloon.
situation to situation, as will the purpose and even authority; what will be constant is the requirement for American leadership and participation from states and actors willing and able to contribute in some form.”
In an email exchange with me last week, Mr. Haass wrote: “The bottom line is that the U.S. as sheriff is essential because the world doesn’t order itself and there is no other candidate with the capacity, habits, etc.” He added: “What Trump seems to miss is that the benefits of our fulfilling that role far outweigh the costs, and the costs are high if we do not assume that role.”
Yes, but with prodding from Sen. Graham and other wise men, the president’s views appear to be evolving. No less consequential, Europeans may be recognizing that they sometimes have to load their six-shooters, saddle up and join the posse. The alternative is to be left alone watching the sheriff ride off into the sunset.