We’re less than 100 days into the Trump presidency, and already a streak has been maintained: After last night’s airstrike in Syria, each of the last seven American presidents has launched his own entirely new military operation against jihadists or hostile Muslim governments. Yet it’s safe to say that each of them entered office either hoping to avoid new conflicts or believing that they would decisively turn the page and transition to a better, more peaceful Middle East.
Jimmy Carter responded to the Iran hostage crisis with a failed military operation against Tehran. Ronald Reagan bombed Libya and intervened in Lebanon. George H. W. Bush responded to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait with the overwhelming force of Desert Storm and launched a humanitarian operation in Somalia that ultimately led to the battle of Mogadishu. Bill Clinton periodically attacked Hussein’s Iraq and lobbed cruise missiles into Sudan and Afghanistan. George W. Bush responded to 9/11 by invading Afghanistan in 2001, and he deposed Hussein in 2003. Barack Obama launched entirely new operations in Libya and Syria while managing the existing Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
We Americans desperately wish to disengage and move on. Yet like Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction, the terrorists and strongmen keep getting in our faces and declaring that they won’t be ignored. So we’re once again faced with nothing but terrible choices, and the path to peace is as unclear as ever.