Isaac Chotiner objects to Obama’s strangely positive remarks on WWI while in Belgium:

It’s true that Obama is the president and thus feels an understandable need to celebrate those who fought in America’s wars. But a better way to remember the men who fought and died in World War I is to say that they tragically went (or were sent) to fight in a conflict that should never have begun, and in any event should never have been joined by the United States. As someone who was elected thanks to his opposition to a different misguided war that “should never have been authorized,” Obama should have the courage to say so.

One would think that WWI would be one of the few major wars that the U.S. has fought that a contemporary president would feel no need to valorize or justify in any way, but that is apparently not the case. If there was ever a more futile, needlessly destructive war in modern history than WWI, I am not sure what it would be. There is no shame in admitting as much a hundred years after the war began, and no need to recycle old propaganda about the war being fought for freedom. We have the benefit of the last century’s disasters to instruct us in how much harm that war and its aftermath did to Europe and to the entire world. What’s even more strange is that Obama felt the need to say this while in Europe, where there is little or no interest in treating the war as anything other than a disaster for all nations involved.

WWI isn’t the only senseless war that Obama has felt the need to defend this week. In his Brussels speech on Ukraine, he was so concerned to counter Russian criticism of past U.S. policies that he went so far as to argue that “America sought to work within the international system” during the Iraq war. If trampling on the U.N. Charter, waging war for regime change, creating the conditions for the deaths of at least 100,000 people, and throwing a country into chaos from which it has still not recovered qualifies as working “within the international system,” it is easy to see why other governments might not take that system or its rules very seriously. The odd thing is that Obama’s remarks on Iraq are a perfect example of the double standards and selective interpretation of international law that other governments criticize the U.S. for practicing. Even when the U.S. blatantly violates international law, there is always some justification or excuse that somehow makes this violation irrelevant, but other states are expected to obey the rules to the letter. In trying to defend indefensible conduct on the part of the U.S., Obama is giving foreign critics of U.S. policies exactly what they need to dismiss what the U.S. says on other issues.