U.S. FOREIGN POLICY for decades proceeded in the shadow of the failure in Vietnam. Some 58,000 Americans were killed in that war. Stateside protests were fierce enough to persuade President Lyndon Johnson to sit out the '68 election. Seven years later, after about 2 million civilian Vietnamese deaths, the U.S. finally gave up without having prevented a Communist takeover of the country.
"Vietnam syndrome" restricted our foreign conflicts, for a time, to such swift and relatively petty adventures as 1983's post-coup invasion of Grenada (which, though it involved fewer than 8,000 U.S. troops, did kill 19 U.S. soldiers, wound 116 more, and prompt a massive majority of the U.N. General Assembly to dub the American action a "flagrant violation of international law") and the 1989 overthrow of troublesome Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega.
But in 1991, the U.S. resumed big-time war waging in order to reverse Iraq's conquest of Kuwait. Along with 38 allied countries, America commanded more than 600,000 troops in a three-month ground war. The Bill Clinton era meanwhile saw U.S. overseas interventions begin to be characterized as "humanitarian." We dipped in and out, sending troops or war planes to Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo and helping to displace over a million people combined.
After September 11,2001, the U.S. military fully re-entered the world stage. The last 17 years have seen a variety of wars, quasiwars, and ongoing interventions with a mix of shifting rationales, from revenge for the attacks to spreading peaceful democracy in the Middle East to targeting specific bad actors to simply helping our Saudi allies as they work to reduce Yemen to a charnel house. None of these more recent efforts have worked out well on a geopolitical level. Meant to end Islamic terrorism worldwide, our post-9/11 war-making multiplied it. A 2007 study by NYU researchers found that the average yearly number and fatality rate of terror attacks rose by 607 percent and 237 percent respectively after we entered Iraq in 2003. If you exclude violence in that country, the increases were still 265 and 58 percent; most jihadis in subsequent years were radicalized by the invasion itself.
Meant to crush Al Qaeda, our interventions have expanded its breadth and numbers; meant to create stable democracies in the Middle East, they've helped reduce Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen to the same sort of chaos that bred the terror in Afghanistan that began this whole bloody...