When I was in school, geography was a simple subject.
We had big, colorful maps in the classrooms that the teachers could pull down like window shades when they wanted to teach us about a particular part of the world.
We also had a big old globe on a stand in the corner. The oceans were blue, the deserts were brown, the forests were green, and the mountains were raised to show the topography.
I later realized, however, that geography is not that simple.
The cartographers have been kept busy moving borders and changing the names of countries, so that our former view of the world no longer makes sense.
It is somewhat disconcerting to realize that what was once fact is no longer reliable.
I am starting to think that I am not the only one who is confused about geography and related subjects.
I have tried to understand our US foreign policy, and that is even more disconcerting.
The folks in Washington are smart people, and I am sure they understand all of this much better than I do, but to an outside observer, it looks a little bit like chaos.
There is a lot of talk about defining and refining missions, and about winning and losing wars, but to me, it looks like one big game of Whac-A-Mole in countries that are a long way from our home.
We just celebrated (if celebrate is the word I am looking for) the eighth anniversary of our occupation of Afghanistan.
It seems to me that things over there are worse today than they were a few years ago.
Our fearless leaders can’t seem to agree on whether we should send more troops and resources to the area, pull troops out, or leave things as they are.
Eight years seems like a long time to spend in someone else’s country without a really clear idea of why we are there and what we are trying to accomplish.
Then, there is that little adventure we have been having over in Iraq.
That was big news for awhile, but we don’t hear so much about it lately. We are still spending a pile of money there though, and I think it is still a pretty serious matter to the young men and women who are getting killed over there, and to their friends and families.
Recently, we have heard warnings that Pakistan is in danger of falling into terrorist hands, and that would be an even bigger problem, because Pakistan has a nuclear weapons program.
It is not too much of a stretch to imagine the US charging in there next, in the interest of rooting out al-Qaeda and protecting the world from terrorism.
As one who studied not only geography, but economics, I can’t help but wonder how we can continue to send personnel and resources to all of these places, tearing things up as we search for scoundrels, and then rebuilding infrastructure to make things better than they were before we got there.
We have a finite amount of people and money, and it seems like there will come a point when we will have to make some difficult decisions about how to deploy those resources.
If our goal is to create jobs by building or rebuilding infrastructure, there is plenty of infrastructure here at home that could use some attention.
One might also be justified in worrying a bit about the way we have been going about things.
We claim that our mission is to end violence, but we keep going into unstable areas and training the locals, teaching them new ways to fight one another, and supplying them with weapons to help them do so.
How do we know that this training and these weapons won’t be used against us at some point in the future?
Neither the people we are training nor their shaky governments inspire much confidence in the casual observer.
The fighting has been going on for centuries in some parts of the world, and it is difficult to see how going in and passing out guns to these birds is going to make the situation better.
It would be nice to see some accountability for the money that is sent overseas. It seems that there is a lot of potential for this aid to end up lining the pockets of corrupt rogues rather than in the hands of people who really need it.
There are times I wish we could go back to a simpler time when the world was an artistic rendering on a schoolroom wall.
Jumping from one country to the next, and from one crisis to the next seems risky.
I can’t help thinking that if we keep playing this game of political Whac-A-Mole and changing priorities every five minutes, we might be playing a game we can’t win.
If we continue to capriciously change direction whenever a new situation develops, without resolving the mess in the last country we were in, we could end up getting whacked ourselves.