By Thucydides Frappe
There is no serious discussion about rethinking US foreign policy, left or otherwise, without addressing the use of force. Unfortunately for the left, critiques of its foreign policy are dominated by fundamentally unserious use of force debates, frequently in the form of a family of hypotheticals we can call the Interventionist Trolley Problem. The Interventionist Trolley Problem assumes a practically unlimited US military capability and broad international sanction for American intervention; leftists are judged on their willingness to pull the lever, using American force to intervene in one or another crisis. In various forms, the Trolley Problem appears any time a liberal supporter chastises a skeptic of humanitarian intervention about how they would meet “a problem from hell,” or a conservative interventionist bemoans the “cost of inaction” to dissuade advocates of US military retrenchment.
The critique provided by the Interventionist Trolley Problem is unserious because it relies on assumptions that a left government would have to destabilize, if not upend. A left government will not just be deciding whether or not to intervene in a hypothesized conflict, it will also be making decisions about how much of its resources will be devoted to domestically-focused policies, which of its internationally-focused resources will be defense-related, and a broader suite of domestic and international policy agenda items that will dramatically change the competing priorities all policymakers grapple with as they consider waging war. Because leftist government demands a radical redistribution of priorities and resources, no leftist foreign policy is possible without questioning the assumptions behind the Interventionist Trolley Problem.