Although it can seem as if we’re always fighting somewhere, the United States is not a terribly warlike country.
During the Civil War — our bloodiest conflict after World War II — we fought among ourselves. World War II started when the Japanese attacked us without warning, sinking four of our battleships, damaging four others and killing more than 2,000 Americans. And Nazi Germany, in a show of Axis solidarity, declared war on us, not vice versa.
We were clearly provoked by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But rather than clean up the remnants of al-Qaida in Afghanistan, we found ourselves in control of Iraq, for reasons that grow ever more unclear with time.
As Iraq became increasingly pointless — we didn’t even come out of that war with any oil — we announced that we were leaving for good at the end of 2011, giving both the Iraqi government and the insurgents plenty of time to plan.
We have announced that we and the other NATO forces will be almost entirely out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. It’s our way of telling the Taliban and the remnants of al-Qaida that they should head back to their caves because we’re going to get out of there anyway.
With Syria, we have taken the business of deadlines another step. We announce when we’re going to get out of the war before we’re even in it.
It is clear that Syrian strongman Bashar Assad did something not only evil but against international law — as if that’s ever stopped a dictator bent on mayhem — by launching rockets loaded with poison gas into civilian neighborhoods that may have been sheltering insurgents.
Afterward, photos showing rooms of unmarked corpses of children repulsed the United States, France and the Arab Persian Gulf countries that do not want to be left to face Assad unaided. Russia and China cited lack of specific proof, on the order of photos of Assad personally lighting the fuse of a rocket loaded with sarin gas.