After the election, the New York Times editorial board laid out a foreign-policy agenda for President Obama to follow over the next four years. It combines wooly-headed idealism with half-baked thinking.
The leading suggestion—which is dedicated much more text than any other—is to aim for a world free of nuclear weapons. Yet zero is the wrong number, because if any one nation hides a few nukes, it would lord over those who do live up to their disarming commitments. One can surely dial down the numbers, but a low level of mutual deterrence is unavoidable—and history shows it works.
The Times correctly points out that Al-Qaeda is spreading in North Africa and in Pakistan. Ergo? “Dealing with that challenge will likely become harder, as will the choices Mr. Obama must make. For one thing, he will have to examine whether the expanding use of drones is the right approach.” To call for more examination is always a good idea, but—like appointing commissions, study groups and impact evaluations—most of the time it is nothing but a cop out for those who have no idea where to go next.
I am not saying that the Times agenda is without any merit. If the list it provides is turned on its head, the president may do well over the next four years: The Obama administration should focus in the near term on the Middle East. The first priority must be dealing with the nukes there rather than those of Russia. We must limit our ambition to protecting our security and that of our allies, and refrain from nation building overseas. Only then can we restore our economy and thus be able to discharge our international responsibilities.