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The President and the 'Necessary War' Myth

President Obama recently defended American combat in Afghanistan as a "war of necessity," not a "war of choice." He borrowed this deceptively neat distinction from Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a recent book on the subject. And proving how unhelpful it can be, Haass quickly corrected the president. No, Afghanistan is a "war of choice," he declaimed in the New York Times, "Mr. Obama's choice."

The president has walked into a murky swamp that is best avoided. There have been few if any clear-cut wars of necessity in America's history. Not the Revolution, where both the colonists and the British had other and, in the British case, better choices. Not the Civil War, which some historians still believe was an unnecessary and catastrophic spilling of American blood. (Slavery, they wrongly argue, would eventually have died of natural causes.) And never mind the war with Mexico, the Spanish-American War, the many interventions in Central America and the Caribbean, or, in the view of many, World War I.


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