In his new book America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder (Sentinal, $32.95), Wall Street Journal columnist and Pulitzer winner Bret Stephens makes a timely analogy between the broken windows policing theory and Pax Americana, or what I like to call Peace through Strength.
As we watch radicals, malcontents, provocateurs, and looters tear up Ferguson, Missouri, Stephens provides a timely reminder that more than a few places in the world need the same sort of adult supervision that the police and the National Guard are attempting to provide to the citizens in that unfortunate Missouri town.
George Kelling, a criminologist at Rutgers, and James Q. Wilson, a Harvard Political Scientist, published a piece in 1982 on crime in The Atlantic Monthly which, as Stephens says, would become one of the most influential articles ever published. Titled “Broken Windows,” the authors concluded that disorder in a community and the crime rate are closely linked, and a neighborhood with unrepaired broken windows indicates that people don’t care, with the result that breaking more windows is a give-away. Cities that adopted foot patrols, kept neighborhoods clean and orderly, and strictly enforced the law, even minor ones, found that crime rates dropped precipitously and the overall quality of life improved dramatically. The most noted example may be New York City which, as anybody who has been there knows, was turned from a crime-ridden metropolis during the 1980s, where people were afraid to walk down the street, much less wander into Central Park, into one of the safest and low-crime cities in America. Asks Bret Stephens, “Could it be that there’s a ‘broken windows’ cure not just for America’s mean streets, but for our increasingly disorderly world at large?”
A timely question as we debate the extent to which the cops should use force to control crime and protect themselves from assaults and armed felons on the one hand, and Obama searches for a new Defense Secretary who will prevail over his attempts to control international disorder while adhering to his pacifist ideology on the other.
Also a timely question as riots and demonstrations erupt throughout the country as a result of the Ferguson grand jury’s conclusion not to indict Police Officer Darren Wilson. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon mobilized the National Guard over last weekend but did not deploy them on Monday night when the grand jury’s decision came down. The result? Riots, buildings burned, police cars torched, nearly 100 arrests. The second night was much calmer with, finally, armed National Guard troops standing by. Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder believes that Nixon was pressured by President Obama into not sending the Guard to Ferguson. Appearing on Fox News, Kinder asked: “Where were they [the National Guard] last night? The law-abiding citizens and business owners and taxpayers of the St. Louis region have the right to ask this governor to answer some questions.” Arguably it suited the purposes of Obama and his attorney general to let Monday’s riots get out of hand.
U.S. foreign policy, with the help of our western allies, did practice a sort of broken-windows theory for the second half of the twentieth century. We contained the Soviet Union, kept most, if not all insurrections and border wars under control, all to the great benefit of our own goals, and ultimately, with an added push by Ronald Reagan, brought Soviet Communism to its demise. George W. Bush went too far, according to Stephens, trying to reshape the world in the image of the West and trying to impose democracy on people who were not interested. But the last six years have reintroduced broken windows to the world, resulting in the current state of affairs: “Rules are invoked but not enforced. Principles are idealized but not defended… One window breaks, then all the others.”
Our foreign policy goal, says Stephens, should not be to democratize the world or even remove all the dictators. Instead it should be to arrest the slide, now well on its way, into international disorder. Increase the Defense budget, build more ships, replace old Air Force airplanes, and increase the size of the Army. Those ships, planes, and ground forces would not be invaders, occupiers or nation-builders, but peace keepers. Quickly punish, says Stephens, perpetrators of gas attacks, cross-border invaders, but don’t try to run every bad guy out of town.
With every “red line” Obama draws and then ignores, our enemies are emboldened to take a further step. With every threat or promise unfulfilled, our allies wonder whether we are serious about the next. And it is no secret that there are plenty of rogues willing to step into the breach and exploit the absence of the United States.
“But what advantage does such a policy have for the United States?” the sceptics will ask. Disorder does not serve our interests well, even if that disorder is far from our borders. And there is plenty of disorder: four Arab states have come undone in the past three years, the European Union is in enough disarray to make one question whether it and its Euro can survive (some would say that would be a good thing), China is assertive and insecure, Russia wants to dominate its region and is willing to use any tactic to do so, not to mention threats from nuclear wannabes North Korea and Iran, nuclear state Pakistan, and ISIS.
Our success as a nation and the success of our people rests, concludes Mr. Stephens, on the pillars that sustain our liberties. Those pillars include American power with reach and probability to keep our enemies in check and far from our shores; power that “fosters global conditions of predictability, prosperity, decency and freedom”. Just as the peace is more likely when the neighborhood cop walks the beat in our neighborhood, or even the National Guard is standing around when the rioters decide to burn down the town, so too are the thugs and revolutionaries more likely to behave when an American aircraft carrier is anchored offshore.