Events in the Middle East over the past two-and-a-half decades have been driven by many things, but one of them is the fervent anti-Americanism that’s inflamed by our continual heavy-handed military meddling in the region. It was the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia that inspired Osama bin Laden to found al Qaeda, just as it was our occupation of Iraq that catalyzed the insurgency that gave birth to ISIS. Sending tens of thousands of American troops back into the region is exceedingly unlikely to be better received this time around. We should instead expect it to inspire many thousands more to join the battle against the imperialist aggressor on ISIS’s side.

Only someone incapable of learning from recent history and unwaveringly convinced of the omnipotence, omnicompetence, and omnibenevolence of the United States could believe otherwise. (For an even more cartoonish version of Kagan’s metaphysical optimism, see John Bolton’s suggestion that American troops help to birth a brand new nation — Sunni-stan — in western Iraq and northeastern Syria. Because, I guess, our great success at nation-building in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya shows that we’re now up to the task of nation-creating.)

During the decades of America’s bilateral conflict with the Soviet Union, the world might have resembled a chess board with the two superpowers squared off against each other and using the other nations as game pieces. But the absence of our one-time rival doesn’t mean we now control every move on all sides of the board. It means the metaphor no longer holds.