Since the Iraq War, many, if not most, Americans have succumbed to the either-or assumption that either we refrain from an active foreign policy or we’ll end up with “boots on the ground.” They recoil from attempts to influence events and ideas in dangerous parts of the world, fearing that influence will translate into military involvement.

Yet, World War II taught that war is even more likely when democratic nations bury their heads in the sand and retreat from the world stage. Scaling down defenses and doing nothing to defend democratic principles allows the escalation of atrocities, weapons programs, and hostilities, and only increases the chance that we’ll be forced into war by events spiraling out of control.

Presidents from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan incorporated hard lessons of WWII into successful Cold War policies, vowing “never again” to be morally or strategically complacent. When regimes commit severe human rights violations, foment regional chaos and war, and plot against the United States and its allies, history tells us to take it seriously.

We must, therefore, take Iran, Russia and Syria, and the collusion between them, seriously. With the apparatus of the state at their disposal, they are, potentially, an even greater threat to the “free world” than ISIS. Because they are terror sponsors and supporters, WMD in their control means WMD out of control, susceptible to being sold or given to fanatics who are willing to work for their cause. Moreover, working with the Iranian, Russian, and Syrian regimes to address Middle Eastern problems and fight ISIS is a sure way to alienate Middle Eastern moderates and traditional partners.

As I’ve said many times, we must “beware ISIS strategy that fortifies Russia, Syria and Iran.” Let us hope President Trump will not follow the pattern of President Obama by overreacting to the Iraq War, while overlooking our best American foreign policy traditions.

Anne R. Pierce is an author, commentator and scholar in the areas of American Presidents, American Foreign Policy and American Society. With a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, she is an appointed member of Princeton University’s James Madison Society and Political Science Field Editor for Transaction Publishers. Her latest book is A Perilous Path: The Misguided Foreign Policy of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. Twitter @AnneRPierce

Photo Credit: U.S. Army Soldiers from Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division and Iraqi’s Emergency Service Unit conduct a cordon and search in Amushabi, Iraq, Feb. 19, 2008. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Samuel Bendet)