(City Journal) -- The foreign policy establishment’s most foolish idea, of many, is the doctrine of proportionality. If an enemy kills 20 of our soldiers, we’ll kill 20 of theirs—or at least hold them hostage awhile. What is the point of being the world’s superpower if we can’t achieve our strategic goals with overwhelming force? Proportionality asks us to fight with one hand tied behind our back and the other cushioned by a giant boxing glove.
The great historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle created a fable to explain the cause of the War of Jenkins’ Ear. England didn’t really go to war with Spain in the mid-eighteenth century because a Spanish privateer had sliced off the ear of a British naval captain, who (mythically) laid it in evidence before Parliament. But the principle contained in the story is just: harm a hair on the head of a subject of the world’s superpower, and God help you.
The most luminous example of the opposite course is President Jimmy Carter’s pusillanimous behavior when Islamist “revolutionaries” overthrew the Shah of Iran in 1979 and took 52 American marines and embassy personnel hostage that November.
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