Like a hammer in search of a nail, policymakers are quick to solve national security problems through US involvement in foreign quagmires.
Whether by invading, bombing or arming dubious international fighters about whom we know little, our activist foreign policy keeps creating vacuums that are filled by our enemies
or assuming burdens that should not be borne by our taxpayers or brave service members.
Yet our foreign policy has proved the most resistant to change, even when we elect presidents who appear to understand the problems with the current approach.
President Obama opposed the destabilization that followed regime change in Iraq, but then repeated it in Libya.
Similarly, President-elect Trump called the Iraq war a "big, fat mistake"
and rejected the US serving as the world's policemen. But he has mostly surrounded himself with supporters of that mistake and conventionally hawkish globo-cops when seeking to fill crucial national security positions in his coming administration.
Even President George W. Bush campaigned on a "humble foreign policy." We all know how that turned out.
Our leaders started down this dangerous path even before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001
, but our current military footprint abroad cannot be understood apart from that dark day. We rightly avenged the savage murder of thousands of our countrymen and undoubtedly took steps that increased our preparedness for future terrorism, making Americans safer.
Nevertheless, we must take inventory of where we are more than 15 years later. Despite being at war in Afghanistan for longer than the US fought in the Second World War, the Taliban now holds more territory there than at any point since 2001.
A variant of the Islamic extremists who attacked America on 9/11 now holds more power and territory in Iraq than before 2003 invasion. Iran is also more powerful in the Middle East, having lost a regional counterweight. One reputable pollster
found that 90% of young Iraqis consider the US an enemy.
The US government is now re-engaging in Iraq to beat back ISIS, which metastasized after the overthrow of the old regime in Baghdad. Unlike the last war in Iraq, this one is proceeding without congressional authorization.
"Unfortunately, despite all our progress against ISIL on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group's terrorism capability and global reach," CIA Director John Brennan told Congress in June.
Our politicians ignore the consequences of regime change in Libya, which, as in Iraq, has left the country teeming with anti-American jihadists who we have resumed bombing with no end in sight.
Instead, Democrats and Republicans clamor to do more in Syria, hoping to overthrow yet another regime that is loathsome but incapable of imminently threatening the US while simultaneously fighting the other sides of that civil war.
Far from being a bystander, our government is already arming and training Syrian rebels. One such group of fighters gave a quarter of its weapons to an al-Qaeda affiliate
On Thanksgiving, we suffered the first American combat death in Syria.
All this despite the fact that it is becoming less clear as to why getting involved in the civil war in Syria will prevent Americans from being killed in San Bernardino, Orlando or Boston.
The biggest terrorist attacks on our soil since 9/11 have not been directed from the Middle East. They have not been stopped by overthrowing or destabilizing foreign governments. They have not been prevented by mass surveillance of American citizens.
If we cannot secure our own borders, how realistic is it that we can protect ourselves by redrawing the borders of Syria or Iraq?
How often are we going to repeat the same interventions on the advice of the same people whose recommendations and threat assessments have proven wrong in the past?
November's election results showed our political elites don't even understand what is going on in our own country. Do they really possess the wisdom to create peaceful democracies in the Middle East?
In a dangerous world, there are no easy answers. But having spent nearly $5 trillion
on war, to say nothing of the deaths and injuries to our best and bravest Americans, in exchange for security benefits that are arguable at best requires some hard questions.
Let us hope that our new leaders will have the courage to ask them.