When the French were defeated at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, they asked President Dwight Eisenhower to help them re-establish their hold in Vietnam. Eisenhower -- who was a dark realist when it came to sizing up battles -- refused their invitation.
But his successor, John Kennedy -- humiliated by Nikita Khrushchev early in his administration -- decided to draw a line in Southeast Asia. Some historians claim that he quickly saw the folly of his decision and that he planned to remove American troops from the rice paddies by the end of his first term. Unfortunately, Kennedy was assassinated; and his successor, Lyndon Johnson, bought the line that Vietnam was a domino. Once it fell, the other countries in the region would fall.
Thomas Walkom writes that Western governments seem to be buying the same theory today. This time the battlefields are the sands of the Middle East. The invasion of Afghanistan spawned rebellion in Pakistan. The invasion of Iraq emboldened Iran to seek protection in its nuclear program. The international intervention in Libya led to an insurrection in Mali -- which, last week, led to the hostage taking and consequent carnage in Algeria.
All of the military muscle flexing, however, has left the United States and Canada weary:
For practical politicians, all of this is a nightmare. After Iraq and Afghanistan, the American public is loath to involve itself in another war. As a result, Washington speaks softly and carefully.
Canadians too have been made weary by the Afghan experience. Prime Minister Stephen Harper knows that. That’s why his office has been so reluctant to admit that Canada’s very, very limited commitment to the war in Mali is gradually expanding.
Both the U.S. and Canada have sent logistical support in the form of air cargo planes to ferry French troops and equipment into what used to be French West Africa. President Eisenhower knew how easy it was to get into a war. It would appear that we're getting into another one.
Unfortunately, our leaders -- particularly Mr. Harper -- do not possess Eisenhower's experience or wisdom.