Thanksgiving remains one of those few moments when we actually reflect on our blessings. We count what we have gained and what we have lost. The table is not only a place of celebration but also commemoration, especially for the men and women in uniform.
Gathered around their dinner tables, many American families made sure to give thanks to our troops serving across the globe— and rightfully so. They are separated from their families so that we may be with ours. Their sacrifice protects us back home.
We can never replace the lives lost on the remote battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no adequate replacement for the separation of families or the long-lasting wounds, both physical and mental, that accompany many of our troops back home.
We seek a means to redress the situation, but because we too infrequently separate bringing our troops back home from turning our backs upon the world, the two have become mismatched synonyms in the minds of many of our countrymen.
Our national psyche yearns to withdraw— to retreat from the front lines of the world. Let the dusty and bullet-riddled cities of Syria continue to be shelled and their people condemned to flee. Let the Chinese exert undue control over international airspace that threatens violence through miscalculation and disregard for American allies. Let Africa roil in its perpetual problems. Let Iran continue to enrich uranium, albeit at a more “acceptable” threshold.
And at this time, the world is beginning to understand what it had once freely criticized and is now losing. The world has become more chaotic. It finds itself less sure of direction and increasingly unsure of what an American guarantee means any more. The Saudis have muttered about the lack of direction in American foreign policy. The Israelis no longer feel as if they have a reliable ally. The Japanese and Koreans continue to bicker between themselves without mediation.
The world needs a leader, and the responsibility of leadership lies on its most powerful nation.
The U.S. is still the most powerful country in the world but fails to act like it— to exert clear, decisive leadership. Our president shirks away from long-standing commitments abroad, and his red-lines have lost significance. Our national dialogue has become increasingly insular, and the intractable problems that needed government interference less than anything else continue to sap our political will. Our credibility has been questioned. We doubt and question our role in the world during this Thanksgiving season.
Any lesser country would willingly depart from its leading role on the world stage, but for the U.S. to do so would be the ultimate disregard of the sacrifices of our fellow citizens. A strong United States builds toward world peace and encourages global prosperity. As we bring our troops back home, we should not confuse the decrease of armed conflict with an end to American leadership and presence. We give thanks for their return, but the U.S. must still lead.
If we do not stay, then the world will be commemorating less of what it has gained and more of what it has lost.