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America Can Take a Breather. And It Should.

Author: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
June 22, 2013
New York Times

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The United States is currently enjoying an unprecedented respite in the foreign policy arena — a temporary relief from the normal rigors of history that allows us to take stock at home and abroad.

It may seem outlandish to claim that we're in the midst of a lull, given that America faces a civil war in Syria, an Iran that seems to be seeking nuclear weapons, an irresponsible North Korea that already possesses them, continuing threats from terrorists, a rising China and rapid climate change.

Yet the United States enjoys a respite all the same. For the three and a half centuries of the modern international era, great powers have almost always confronted rivals determined to defeat them and replace the global order they worked to bring about. In the last century, this process unfolded three times. The results were violent, costly and dangerous, and included two world wars and a cold war.

Today, there are threats, but they tend to be regional, years away or limited in scale. None rises to the level of being global, immediate and existential. The United States faces no great-power rival. And this is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

The biggest strategic question facing America is how to extend this respite rather than squander it. This will require restraining foreign involvement and restoring domestic strength. We can no longer seek to remake countries in the Middle East and South Asia, as was tried at great cost and with little success in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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