WASHINGTON -- France had its Napoleon and so still celebrates glorious parades down the Champs Elysees. Russia had Stalin, watching with cruel eyes over the military marches that filled Red Square. Nazi Germany had Hitler and the extravaganzas of loyalty to him in the vast coliseum of Nuremberg.
How very different these are from our rare and relatively congenial military parades, the last one in 1991 after the Gulf War. And how different from the parade our president seems to be planning.
Of all the contrasts between the European parades and Donald Trump's, one particularly stands out: Those European parades were staged to celebrate WINNING wars, whereas a Trump parade would inevitably be staged to celebrate -- can one quite imagine? -- LOSING them.
Some call the rapidly multiplying wars we are needlessly engaged in today "unending wars." I like to call them "hypothetical wars," because they are based not on immediate threats to America, but on adventuresome hypotheses about something that MIGHT happen if we do not act; witness the old "domino theory" and Vietnam.
But I have now found the best descriptive phrase possible. Respected military officer and historian, retired Col. Andrew Bacevich, calls these conflicts "purposeless wars." Hold those two powerful words in your mind for a moment, while we look at where we are today.
First, Afghanistan. It is virtually impossible to find anyone, even after 16 long, miserable years in that tormented land -- long called "the graveyard of empires," and not without reason -- who suggests that we are "winning" in Afghanistan. In Iraq we find a kind of peace, but it is the peace of the dead.
Syria has now become the most dangerous foreign policy tangle in the Near East. Without knowing what we really sought there any more than we did in Afghanistan or Iraq -- or were willing to "pay" for -- we involved ourselves just enough to make us complicit in the tragedy. And so, not surprisingly, our limited number of troops in Syria face exceptional dangers on two borders.
To the north, as we support the hard-fighting, admirable Kurdish militia that have taken over a region along the Turkish border, there is the serious danger that the Turks will attack us. That would certainly mark a first: two NATO members fighting each other instead of, as both have pledged, defending each other.
Meanwhile, to the south, Israel has struck within Syria against Iranian drone stations there. If Israel were to go to war against Iranian or other factions inside Syria, given the abnormal power of the Israeli lobby in America, U.S. troops could for the first time be fighting on Israel's side -- with all the unbelievable dangers and contradictions that would bring.
"The risks are high," Sami Nadir of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs was quoted saying in The Washington Post. And "any escalation in Syria could pave the way for a regional or international war, given the fact that the big powers are directly present on the ground and not through proxies, as used to be the case."
The Trump administration's proposed budget for defense is up roughly 15 percent from 2017 -- to $686 billion. In all the wars-without-strategy and wars-without-purpose, we are bleeding ourselves dry.
But here I am stealing from Col. Bacevich. "In a weirdly ironic way," he told me via email, "perhaps Trump's proposed parade-without-a-victory captures something important about the present moment in American history. In former times, we organized parades to celebrate wars won. There was a common understanding that the intended outcome of war was victory.
"In the endless wars since 9/11, we have lost sight of that principle. Our wars have become purposeless, a fact that American elites and the American people appear to find acceptable. Having a parade to honor a military that does not win and that the country has consigned to endless campaigning in distant theaters seems somehow oddly appropriate."
Strangely to me, most Americans DO apparently accept this. Few ask, as did the ever refreshing, out-of-the-box Republican Sen. Rand Paul last week, "Is the military budget too small, or maybe is our mission too large around the world?"
Indeed, few Americans are asking the other most relevant questions: Why aren't we protesting these purposeless wars? And why are we allowing a self-indulgent, narcissistic president to burden us with his parade?