Win a Few, Lose a Few

06/16/2013 07:25 pm ET | Updated Aug 16, 2013
  • Dr. Charles G. Cogan Associate, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School

The United States and its Allies outsmarted the Russians on Libya -- by enticing it into supporting a UN Security Council vote against Qadhafi. So far, Russia has outsmarted the West on Syria, by blocking a move in the Security Council against Bashar al-Asad.

Now, and suddenly, President Obama, in part to fulfill his imprudent setting of a "red line" if Bashar used chemical weapons in Syria, has had it announced that the U.S. will now send small arms and ammunition to the Syrian rebels.

Regardless of how the struggle in Syria comes out, we should ask ourselves why are we doing this and what difference does it make? Syria is not a strategic interest of the U.S.

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States is not threatened militarily and will not be for a long time. In his new book, "Foreign Policy Begins at Home," Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, argues convincingly that the U.S. should concentrate on rebuilding itself at home and only intervene abroad with the utmost care and prudence.

Which opens the question of why, when the U.S. is not threatened militarily by another power, it seems unable to shake off the Cold War mentality of having to win every game with the Russians, whatever the reason - "face," prestige, or city-on-the-hill messianism. This inner pride has gotten us into a number of foreign misadventures in the past including, recently, an unnecessary war (Iraq) and a prolonged one (Afghanistan).

Since we are not threatened militarily, we should adjust our judgments and our rhetoric to the realization that we don't have to appear to win at everything.