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After World War II, the American military took over the governments of Japan and West Germany. We did not start out by setting up some local leader who would be able to put his own interests above ours and work at cross-purposes against us.

Nor did we announce to the whole world when we planned to start reducing our troop levels in these countries.

Under the unchallenged supremacy of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Japan was indeed turned into a very different country, one in which democratic institutions could be phased in, at whatever pace the circumstances made prudent. Something similar happened in West Germany.

But this was not something that could be done quickly or on the cheap, with politicians sounding off in Congress about pulling out and trying to micromanage from thousands of miles away. If we can’t be serious, we have no right to send young Americans out into the hell of war.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.