The longer the Syria debate goes on in the United States, the clearer and clearer it becomes that it is not about Syria at all. The American public is simply exhausted and has little or no appetite for yet another intervention, particularly one where it is self-evident that the commander in chief is at best a reluctant supporter.
Yet, there has been a recent rash of stories essentially complaining that the American public's leeriness toward a Syria intervention is somehow illegitimate. The Washington Post's chief art critic argued that Americans are simply too inured to images of violence against children and had grown uncaring. In those same pages, author Sebastian Junger insisted that Americans simply don't understand that force is needed to end such messy wars and that humanitarian interventions almost always go swimmingly well.
Yet, as someone who reluctantly supports an intervention in Syria, I believe firmly we need to be much more honest about the potential perils of such a course -- and in doing so give the American public far for more credit for its collective wisdom.
Most Americans, regardless of their political stripe, don't think we can get it right when it comes to the use of force or trying to reshape nations after an intervention, and that opinion is grounded in the hard realities of the past 12 years.
What is the average American taxpayer supposed to think when he or she is told that, by even the most conservative tally, the United States has already spent $657 billion in Afghanistan and $814 billion in Iraq? Credible estimates suggest that the two conflicts will cost the United States a combined $4 trillion to $6 trillion by the time they are done because of the high long-term costs of caring for wounded veterans. Bipartisan studies suggest that between $30 billion and $60 billion of U.S. funds in Iraq and Afghanistan have simply been lost, stolen, or wasted. Put another way, that's about $12 million going down the drain each day, every day, for a decade. In some cases, those lost funds have flowed directly to the same insurgents U.S. forces have battled on the ground.
But not only have we lost staggering sums of money in the middle of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression -- at a time when roads, schools, and worker training in the United States all desperately need investment. No, the losses have been much more personal. Some 4,486 U.S. servicemen and servicewomen were killed in Iraq; another 2,271 in Afghanistan. Another 50,000 have been wounded in those two wars. All told, some 1.5 million U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are still deployed in war zones or combat missions worldwide. And staggering numbers of Iraqis and Afghans have been killed since the invasions of their countries.