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OpinionColumnistsDan Janison

No appetite for our boots on their soil

American soldiers, seen at the Bagram Air Base

American soldiers, seen at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, have pulled out of the country. Credit: AFP via Getty Images/JIMIN LAI

If an American mood can be said to exist, it swings decidedly against sending legions of troops overseas. At least for the moment, the tone is set by the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which continues to be a war zone, possibly with a hideous jihadist future.

This week U.S. policymakers made it fairly clear that another U.S. occupation of Haiti looks unlikely — again, for the moment. The nation’s citizens and expatriates in New York mostly consider it a bad idea. Nobody’s even assured that keeping to scheduled elections there would promote order or democracy.

But if starvation and shortages and chaos worsen enough, efforts to support international intervention may follow.

Once upon a time in the Cold War, U.S. government leaders thought it best to overthrow the Castro regime in Cuba, and we know how well that worked out. Six decades since its revolution, there are viral videos of open public demonstrations to protest shortages and restrictions in Cuba.

On this topic, the question facing President Joe Biden involves how quickly to remove ex-President Donald Trump’s return to tighter sanctions on Havana. Cuban expatriate leaders in Miami called for U.S. troops to be sent to pave the way for humanitarian aid and regime change, but particularly now, that looks highly unlikely.

Despite years of domestic disaster and U.S. posturing, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, allied with long-since-communist Russia, retains repressive power. He said Monday that Mexico will host talks between his government and the opposition, but only if sanctions are removed.

In the U.S., it seems, one party's potential military ambitions seem likely for now to be powerfully opposed by the other's. But nearly 20 years since the U.S. was attacked from outside, nobody would expect us to turn pacifist if it happened again — just that a future engagement would have something to do with what prompted it.

Perhaps hearts, minds and government priorities haven't changed as much as tactics and technology. Armies do not need to be shifted en masse to carry out electronically controlled drone strikes (and in a grotesque way, atrocities can thus be more unaccountable). Not all reconnaissance from above needs to endanger pilots. Sanctions can be enforced without warships blockading ports.

As Biden's tetchy exchanges with the Kremlin's Vladimir Putin remind us, cyber-sabotage with the potential to cripple essential systems plays out behind the scenes. Adversaries can mess with each other from behind their keyboards.

China's military intimidations in its hemisphere are watched and challenged, diplomatically. The Mideast and its power struggle between Iran and the Gulf states portend future troubles as a proxy war and deprivation go on in Yemen.

Fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, and Indians and Pakistanis, could ignite and spread.

Through all the changes, the U.S. retains imperial-type outposts around the world. More than 70 countries are reported to host American military bases of different kinds. With an ever-increasing defense budget, north of $700 billion for fiscal 2022, the Pentagon certainly still has its secrets and its options.

The U.S. continues its presence in Niger, where in 2017 the Islamic State ambushed and killed four American officers and five soldiers from that nation. But Western commitments in that region since last year have looked tenuous, and France is reducing its presence.

The popular mood runs against military intervention, especially when results are so muddled.

Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.

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