In George Will’s column today in the Washington Post (“Obama is Right on Syria”), Will references an essay in the most recent issue of the American Interest by Owen Harries and Tom Switzer (“Leading from Behind: Third Time a Charm?”) and notes positively their claim that “Obama understands the ‘most important sentence ever written about American foreign policy’” — Walter Lippmann’s statement: “Without the controlling principle that the nation must maintain its objectives and its power in equilibrium, its purposes within its means and its means equal to its purposes, its commitments related to its resources and its resources adequate to its commitments, it is impossible to think at all about foreign affairs.”
A truism, if there ever was one. However, Lippmann’s formula doesn’t answer the question of whether an intervention in Syria is beyond America’s means and what the costs and strategic benefits might be for intervening. Those are serious issues which Will’s erudite but facile column never addresses.
Also, it’s certainly odd to cite Lippmann, who penned this sentence in 1943 and who went on to argue that the US was making a monumental mistake by adopting a policy of containment toward the Soviet Union. If there ever was a wrong-headed assessment of what the US should and could do when facing the threat posed by the Soviets, it was Lippmann’s.
Whether to intervene in Syria and how to do so are, again, matters of judgment, principle, and prudence. But neither Will, nor Harries and Switzer, make their case any stronger by pulling out a 70-year old quote from another wrong-headed columnist.