11/10/2014 12:54 pm ET Updated Nov 10, 2014

Veterans Day: The Mission Must Merit the Sacrifice

With big Democratic defeats still reverberating, President Barack Obama is off on an eight-day trip to China, Myanmar (Burma), and Australia, seeking to give a boost to his oft distracted from Asia-Pacific Pivot in geopolitics. After initially denying responsibility for his party's debacle, by the weekend Obama took responsibility, acknowledging that he and his administration haven't done well in explaining just what the heck it is they are trying to do.

President Barack Obama arrived in Beijing as part of his tour to re-emphasize the Asia-Pacific Pivot.

Obama is far too smart a man to remain in denial. And far too smart not to know, for this Veterans Day, the consequences of his decisions with regard to U.S. military and covert interventions around the world.

Veterans Day was originally Armistice Day, the commemoration of the end in 1918 of the Great War. That's what they called World War I back in the day, before we knew enough to number the things.

The "War to End All Wars" proved to be anything but, of course. Instead, it established what has come to be a familiar pattern in the dynamics of modern history, that of one conflict frequently giving rise to (at the least) another.

America has been in many conflicts since Theodore Roosevelt led us out onto the global stage in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, of which he was both a principal architect, as assistant secretary of the Navy in the run-up to the war, and the principal beneficiary as a result of leading his Rough Riders in their famous charge up Cuba's San Juan Hill.

Many if not most of the conflicts since have been misbegotten. Each has had its cost.

Today, with the world ever more complex, and with the crosscuts of inter-relatedness threatening to make many potential conflicts ever larger, it's more important than ever that the mission merits its cost -- in blood, treasure, and pain for all involved.

Not the least of the sacrifice in any mission, even the successful ones, is that of America's veterans. I'm proud to have worn the uniform, and fortunate to have gotten off easy, being shot at but never shot, detained but not mistreated.

Far too many have not been nearly so lucky. And even the unscathed make their sacrifices, in time, effort, disruption in life, and for some, mental trauma.

Tragically, the post-9/11 era has seen too many missions which not only don't merit the sacrifice but also create bigger problems, such as the Iraq invasion and Afghanistan surge. For the cost of either one, we could have mounted a manned mission to Mars, doubled the fleet of aircraft carriers, and done new social and environmental programs besides. That's an "American Exceptionalism" the rest of the world would respect rather than deride.

So the answer is to avoid intervention? Sure. Except that the failure to act is sometimes worse than the present excess of activism.

Another President Roosevelt struggled for years with an isolationist America determinedly deaf, dumb, and blind to the obvious dangers of fascism arising all around.

As Plato (or was it George Santayana?) noted: "Only the dead have seen the end of war."

It's down to knowledgeable leadership to determine when the mission truly merits the inevitable sacrifice that service to country brings.

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