One of the things about being a superpower in a globalized world is that you rarely find yourself justified to shrug off some international issue as “someone else’s problem.”

One of the things about being a superpower in a globalized world is that you rarely find yourself justified to shrug off some international issue as “someone else’s problem.”

The United Nations condemns it, a good portion of the world despises it, and a good portion of our own people criticize it. But, like it or not, the United States is, and has been for quite some time, planet earth’s trusty on-call policeman. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this is a good thing, I will say that, all things considered, a world with China or Russia as on-call policeman probably wouldn’t be that much better.

So here we are, back in the fray again. In Libya with our planes, in Japan with our ships, in Afghanistan with our Marines, in Iraq with our soldiers. It doesn’t take a doctoral thesis to illustrate the fact that all this costs us some significant cash, personnel, resources, attention and more cash.

Don’t get me wrong. Security is expensive. And while our foreign policy—founded upon an ideology of quasi-preemptive defense—can be occasionally overzealous, there is a method to the madness.

Internationalist foreign policy is based upon the concept of extinguishing problems in embryo, preferably with high-tech gadgets. This saves us the pain of addressing a problem that has matured, dug its claws into the ground, and had plenty of time to take us on at its own terms. It’s a simple concept. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In World War II (after a little dithering), it did. In Vietnam, it didn’t.

At least the economy is now, at long last, starting to show some hopeful signs of recovery. Unemployment is down a full percentage point (that’s big) from November, and payrolls have risen admirably. This recovery, however, still in its infancy, is not something to be pushed against the limit. To waste this recovery on another unnecessary war would be foolhardy, and possibly devastating.

If there is anything to be gleaned from all this, it is that “overstretched” is, frankly, the nature of the beast for a superpower. Fortunately, it seems that Mr. Obama has taken this into account. As long as Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya remains a multilateral affair, the financial burden should not fall onto American shoulders. That is a good thing. No matter how optimistic and starry-eyed this president may seem, a ground war in Libya is unlikely to be any easier or more immediately successful than the one in Iraq was.

Of course, this internationalist foreign policy is nothing new. The fundamentals of our position therein harkens all the way back to the Truman administration, and the early days of the Cold War. It has been reworked and re-imagined slightly through the years, most vividly in Mr. Bush the younger’s “War on Terror.” Now it is being re-imagined once again, with minor alterations, by President Obama in his approach toward Libya.

Mr. Obama laid out the fundamentals of doctrine on Monday, when he highlighted the American obligation to intervene militarily for the sake of humanitarianism. The struggle for democracy abroad is as close to heart for the United States as our own struggle for democracy so many years ago. How noble.

What gets me, though, is how oddly similar this is to the neoconservative argument that preceded the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Maybe things will turn out different for Mr. Obama. His two predecessors made the same case. Both predicted speedy victory.

It doesn’t take a doctoral thesis. ?