as it prepares to shut down after landing aboard
the guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze DDG 94,
Gulf Of Aden, 2012.
(Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
Mark Twain once said that God created war so that Americans would learn geography.
Twain died before World War I, but his sardonic remark still has meaning for us.
America continues to fight wars in unfamiliar places, and our unfamiliarity with those places does not - for better or worse - seem to deter the fighting.
Contemporary American history is marred by the scars of nation building. The attempt to directly establish American-style democratic institutions in Iraq and Afghanistan has failed, just as it did in Vietnam.
In the final cable sent from the American embassy in Saigon, as the city was falling to Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces, a prophetic warning was sent to Washington DC by CIA station chief Thomas Polgar:
To be sure, Iraq and Afghanistan are not another Vietnam. Nonetheless, the costs of nation building remain high.
Occupying foreign countries, appointing leaders to their governments, and deploying American ground troops to stamp out opposition all require that American blood and treasure be spent.
According to Stephen Walt, Harvard Professor of International Affairs, more than one trillion dollars has been spent in Afghanistan since the arrival of American forces.
In Iraq, that number is between $3-5 trillion, depending on how you do the accounting.
Would any harm have come to the United States had we not intervened directly in Iraq and Afghanistan? It is surely possible, though we'll never know for certain.
But spending $4-6 trillion abroad does come at a direct cost, said Walt in an interview with us.
Corey Webb, of Springville,
AL takes a break during his daily workout
as members of the Disabled American Veterans
visit wounded soldiers who have recently returned from Iraq
and are now at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington,
DC on January 7, 2005.
(David S. Holloway/Getty Images)
There is currently a lot of public interest in America's foreign policy.
During the 2016 presidential election - six months before the North Korean nuclear crisis fully emerged - 80% of registered voters said the topic of terrorism was "very important" to their vote for president, and 75% said foreign policy was "very important."
Contrast that to the 2012 presidential election when America's domestic agenda was led by healthcare reform. At that time, 59% of voters cared strongly about terrorism and 52% cared about foreign policy.
Still recovering the Great Recession, the nation was turned inward, and ISIS had yet to gain much ground in the Middle East - or coverage in global media.
Daily News front page August 20, 2014,
SAVAGES - ISIS monster behead U.S. journalist,
taunt Obama over air strikes in Iraq
(NY Daily News via Getty Images)
Violent, direct intervention does not create goodwill for America abroad.
Iraqi men carry a coffin in the holy Iraqi city of Najaf on July 3, 2016,
during a funeral procession for the victims of a suicide bombing
that ripped through Baghdad's busy shopping district of Karrada.
The blast hit the Karrada district early in the day as the area was packed
with shoppers ahead of this week's holiday marking the end of
the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, killing at least 75 people
in the deadliest single attack this year in Iraq's capital.
(HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP/Getty Images)
By now, much has been made of President Trump's Twitter habits.
The disruptive, 140-character messages dispatched at odd hours have led some to question the President's attention span. Foreign Policy reported that even NATO leaders had a strategy to keep the attention of the American president.
The would limit remarks made by foreign heads of state to between two and four minutes.
Presidential administrations can quickly be consumed by overseas interventions. Vietnam consumed the Johnson administration. Iraq may largely define George W. Bush's legacy.
What about Trump?
Would an end to interventions like those in Afghanistan and Iraq betray a lack of commitment to American values?
Walt seems assured it is the opposite:
A greater priority, he says, is making America more reflective of the rights we claim to revere:
In other words, lead by example.
We don't need such costly geography lessons...