It is interesting to note how many pro-intervention, pro- “boots on the ground” neoconservatives have never served in the military.
I’m grateful that America treats its veterans better now than it did in decades past. My father was spit on by hippies when he came home from Vietnam. Yet, “thank you for your service” comments don’t undo the horrors of war. Gratitude is no substitute for not sending brave young Americans into harm’s way unless it’s absolutely necessary.
President Reagan used open military force about three times in his presidency. President Clinton deployed the military left and right, in one peacekeeping or nation-building exercise after another. President Bush II campaigned on a less interventionist foreign policy. He said America needn’t be the world’s policeman, and this view was held by most of the conservative movement in the 1990s.
9/11 changed the world, though. Military action was absolutely necessary after those attacks; you can’t let something like that go without response. Yet, if you’d told me on 9/11 that ten years later I’d be in Afghanistan, deployed in what was ostensibly the same war, I wouldn’t have believed you. Yet there I was, on 9/11/11, in Afghanistan, as we attempted to turn the country into a pro-western democracy.
“It’s easy to be a hawk when someone else does the fighting.”
Now those same neocons are calling for “boots on the ground” against the Islamic State, and talking about our Air Force and Navy facing down their Chinese counterparts in the Pacific. The latter is especially ironic, since the trade policies they advocate are what is allowing China to fund its military modernization and become an actual threat to us.
The only military veteran conservative pundit I know off the top of my head is David French of the National Review (who was, I believe, an Army lawyer). Now, being a vet doesn’t automatically grant spectacular insight on foreign policy. It isn’t a prerequisite for having opinions on matters of war and international relations. But it does, to a certain extent, give you a frame of reference.
It’s easy to be a hawk when someone else does the fighting. It’s easy to preach the “necessity” of some dubious, poorly-planned foreign intervention with nebulous, unrealistic goals, when you don’t have to attend the memorials of the troops who give their lives in that intervention.
There is evil in the world. Injustice, too, and also tyranny. Genocide. Oppression. Conflict. Suffering.
It’s awful, but to a certain extent it’s the way of the world. America, for all its might, can’t police the world, right all wrongs, or bring justice to all bad guys. The military isn’t the Justice League or the Avengers. Our military goes in, kills people, breaks things, and blows shit up. War is ugly. There is no set of rules that makes it less so. That’s why it should always be a last resort.