Nearly all wars in the twentieth century have both surprised and disillusioned all leaders, whatever their nationality. Given the political, social, and human elements involved in every conflict, and the near certainty that these mercurial ingredients will interact to produce unanticipated consequences, leaders who calculate the outcome of wars as essentially predictable military events are invariably doomed to disappointment. The theory and the reality of warfare conflict immensely, for the results of wars can never be known in advance.
Today and in the near future, America will make the decisions that will lead to war or peace, and the fate of much of the world is largely in its hands. It thinks it possesses the arms and a spectrum of military strategies all predicated on a triumphant activist role for itself. It believes that its economy can afford interventionism, and that the American public will support whatever actions necessary to set the affairs of some country or region on the political path it deems essential.
But unlike the leaders of most European nations or Japan, the United States' leaders have not gained insight from the calamities that have so seared modern history. Folly is scarcely an American monopoly, but resistance to learning when grave errors have been committed is almost proportionate to the resources available to repeat them. The Germans learned their lesson after two defeats, the Japanese after World War Two, and both nations found wars too exhausting and politically dangerous. America still believes that if firepower fails to master a situation the solution is to use it more precisely and much more of it. In this regard it is exceptional – past failures have not made it any wiser.
The leaders of the United States are not creating peace or security at home or stability abroad. The reverse is the case: its interventions have been counterproductive and its foreign policy is a disaster. Americans and those people who are the objects of successive administrations' efforts would be far better off if the U.S. did nothing, closed its bases overseas and withdrew its fleets everywhere, and allowed the rest of world to find its own way. Communism is dead, and Europe and Japan are powerful and both can and will take care of their own interests. The U.S. must adapt to these facts. But if it continues as it has over the past half-century, attempting to attain the vainglorious but irrational ambition to run the world, then there will be even deeper crises and it will inflict wars and turmoil on many nations as well as on its own people. And it will fail yet again, for all states that have gone to war over the past centuries have not achieved the objectives for which they sacrificed so much blood, passion, and resources. They have only produced endless misery and upheavals of every kind.
They just don't get it.