Abraham Lincoln referred to the "terrible arithmetic" of war, meaning that sometimes a general or statesman would have to accept large numbers of casualties in fighting that would bring the conflict to an end and thereby save even more lives. Whether Lincoln’s war really needed to be fought at all is debatable, but most Americans would accept that war has sometimes been necessary throughout history for a nation to survive when confronted by enemies. When a war must be fought, the key objective should be to end it as quickly as possible and with a minimum loss of life. We Americans of the twenty-first century are now experiencing our own "terrible arithmetic," but an arithmetic that goes on and on without end. Worse, we are engaged in several conflicts that have nothing to do with national survival and did not have to be fought. At least Lincoln hoped that his bloody battles would lead to an end to killing. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama appear to have had no such expectations and instead have been and are accepting of permanent American engagement in the Middle East and Central Asia. Both have contrived the necessity of fighting a long war against an enemy they can hardly identify and repeatedly have failed to understand.
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