For decades a school of American strategists has bewailed what they call the nation's military "overreach" and urged a radical reduction in defense spending as good for world peace.
We are about to find out if they were right.
On the other side of the argument, proponents of a strong military noted that it is the U.S. military's presence abroad, backed by strong reinforcements, that has put a lid on regional wars and kept the sea lanes open.
And that, in turn, has created peaceful conditions necessary for an historic expansion of world trade that has lifted billions out of poverty and kept the United States the world's strongest economy.
We are also about to find out if they were wrong.
President Barack Obama promised change when he took office, and he has delivered it. In place of the traditional U.S. policy as enunciated by President Theodore Roosevelt, to "speak softly but carry a big stick," Mr. Obama has spoken boldly but is busy whittling down the big stick.
Yes, we know that Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire" jab at the Soviet Union and George W. Bush's "Axis of Evil" denunciation of Iraq, Iran and North Korea were provocative terms.
But agree with them or not, most presidents have backed hard words with resolve.
With Mr. Obama, however, we have a president who draws "red lines" in the sand and finds that no one takes them seriously.
And President Reagan's "Peace through strength" appeal wasn't just campaign rhetoric. It was a common-sense acknowledgement of historic geopolitical reality.
Since World War II, the U.S. has policed the world, albeit at times with difficulty and not always with success.
But newly aggressive Chinese behavior in Asian waters has coincided with the Obama administration's decision to reduce the size of the Navy's carrier strike force, making it difficult for the U.S. to sustain its current presence in the Pacific.
Now the Defense Department has announced plans to cut Army personnel to 450,000 or less, its smallest size since 1940.
The White House projects that its defense budget, already too small to meet the nation's traditional post-World War II commitments, will decline by 25 percent in purchasing power over the next decade.
Does President Obama expect this posture to deter a newly acquisitive Russia from casting a shadow over Europe's post-Soviet democracies? NATO may become an empty alliance if this keeps up.
Other nations have seen our president's haste to quit first Iraq and now Afghanistan, his failure to carry though on a threat to use force if Syria used chemical weapons against its own people, his refusal to help pro-Western rebels in Syria, and his eagerness to negotiate a slippery nuclear deal with Iran, the world's top state sponsor of terrorism.
Yes, the U.S. public is understandably war weary after Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yes, there are practical limits to our capacity to keep playing global cop.
Still, with trouble spots flaring across the world, an accelerating American retreat adds to international instability.
And the nuclear deal with Iran is in trouble, according to both the negotiator for the West, British Baroness Catherine Ashton of the European Union, and the lead negotiator for Iran, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.
If those talks collapse, Iran will keep its nascent nuclear weapons capability, something this president has said he will not accept.
But would President Obama really call Iran's bluff? Or will he continue to reverse Theodore Roosevelt's maxim into: "Speak loudly and carry a little stick"?
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