Opinion writer

Vice President Pence spoke to the West Point graduating class on Saturday, and amid the standard congratulations and tributes to the graduates, he said something truly shocking:

It is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life. You will lead soldiers in combat. It will happen.

Some of you will join the fight against radical Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of you will join the fight on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific, where North Korea continues to threaten the peace, and an increasingly militarized China challenges our presence in the region. Some of you will join the fight in Europe, where an aggressive Russia seeks to redraw international boundaries by force. And some of you may even be called upon to serve in this hemisphere.

And when that day comes, I know you will move to the sound of the guns and do your duty, and you will fight, and you will win. The American people expect nothing less.

So, wherever you’re called, I urge you to take what you learned here and put it into practice. Put your armor on, so that when — not if — that day comes, you’ll be able to stand your ground.

Let’s pause and consider what this means. Pence is saying not just that more wars are inevitable, but that they are inevitable soon. Let’s not forget that while many of those who attend the service academies go on to careers in the military, many do not. They have an eight-year commitment after graduation — five years on active duty and three in the reserves.

So the vice president announced to these young men and women that within the next eight years, they will all see combat. In fact, Pence sees America waging war everywhere very soon, whether it’s “the fight on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific,” “the fight in Europe” or somewhere in Latin America. As for Iraq and Afghanistan, Pence is saying that there will be no end to not just American presence but American combat in those places.

And, who knows, if we’re lucky we’ll get a new invasion before long! Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of President Trump’s closest advisers on Capitol Hill, said on Fox News Sunday this weekend that “I would give Cuba an ultimatum to get out of Venezuela. If they don’t, I would let the Venezuelan military know, you got to choose between democracy and Maduro, and if you choose Maduro and Cuba, we are coming after you. This is in our backyard.”

Or, if we get bored with Venezuela, maybe we’ll finally get that war with Iran that so many Republicans, none more so than the president’s national security adviser, have wanted for so long.

What’s most troubling about Pence’s statement is that it treats American invasions of other countries as simply a given, something out of our hands to decide whether or not we want to do. It’s a dangerous world out there, so we have no choice in the matter. It’s just the way it is and always will be. Not only that, these invasions will happen so frequently that at least a few of them are an absolute certainty within any eight-year period. And not any piddling little Grenada-style invasions, but invasions requiring such a large mobilization that every Army officer who graduated from West Point in recent years will see combat.

This is a view of the world that leads to catastrophes like the Iraq War. So let’s be clear: We absolutely have a choice in the question of how often we decide to invade other countries. Every one of the many, many invasions we have undertaken was a choice. And most of them turned out terribly for everyone involved, particularly the people unfortunate enough to live in the places we sent our military.

Imagine looking at the history of American military action over the last couple of decades and thinking that we really couldn’t have done much differently, since this is the burden we have to bear as the global hegemon. If that’s your point of view, it makes it much more likely that in any future conflict, you’ll decide that launching a major military action in which American and foreign lives will be lost is something other than a failure and a tragedy.

At the moment, the only thing keeping us back from launching another war or two is the hesitancy of President Trump, who is one of the few Republicans who seems to have learned anything from the debacle of Iraq. All around him, though, are people like Pence, who seem positively thrilled by the prospect of more wars.

But make no mistake: Trump isn’t reluctant to launch new wars because of some moral objection; this is a man who right now is considering pardoning accused war criminals. It’s because he thinks it might be politically bad for him if he got us into yet another quagmire. If he could be convinced that it would lead to greater glory for himself, he’d happily send untold numbers to their deaths.

I’m not going to argue that Democratic presidents’ hands are clean on this score. But as long as Republicans occupy the Oval Office, the chances of Pence’s prediction of endless war coming true are much higher.

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