As American warplanes drop their payloads over Libyan military targets, our intervention thus far has elicited generally widespread bipartisan support. This time, after all, we’re clearly on the side of the good guys, or at least on the side fighting against a very bad and crazy guy, Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
Still, I cannot help but mutter to myself, “Here we go again.” Just what our goal is in Libya is not clear to me. And the cost of our two wars in the last decade — in military lives lost, military lives shattered, civilians killed, dollars spent and, ultimately, civil liberties eroded seldom gets much attention in this country. We look ahead to the next intervention without weighing just what we’ve accomplished with the last.
War, the saying goes, is hell. And any number of antiseptic if dramatic pictures such as the one on the front page of my New York Times this morning of cars being bombed (no people, thank you) can’t hide that.
Our wars also have bankrupted the United States in another way — to the tune of well over $1 trillion. And those are just the direct costs. They don’t measure the men and women who return physically or psychologically scarred and in need of a lifetime of help.
The fallout of such costs carries far beyond military personnel and their families.Perhaps you’ve read about federal subsidies that could be cut for the working poor, stripping the ability of single mothers to put their children into child care. Perhaps you’ve read about proposals in Massachusetts to chop double-digit percentages from programs for the mentally ill as they try to make their way into society. Or heard about efforts to strip federal funding for family planning in Planned Parenthood.
Such programs are just a few of the hundreds under assault in the name of taming budget deficits. And yet we don’t hesitate to drop bombs, each of which costs many thousands of dollars to build.
Let’s not fool ourselves. There is a direct connection.
Of course, you can respond that I’m heartless. That America has a moral responsibility to help those too weak to defend themselves. That we stand as a beacon of democracy in a world with too little of it.
Only in truth, we serve as such a beacon highly selectively. America has stood meek and silent as demonstrators and those who come to their medical aid are maimed and slaughtered in the streets of Bahrain. That our fleet is stationed in that country may help explain our reticence.
America in any case cannot be the world’s policeman. It is a point that even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made in a speech this spring, when he told West Point cadets, according to The Washington Post, that “any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”
So I would ask again: Why are we intervening in Libya? What is our goal? How can we avoid being drawn into yet another unending ground war? And what really do we have to show for the two that have cost us so dearly?