03/05/2012 01:15 pm ET Updated May 05, 2012

Fighting Our Way to National Decline

Since 9/11, America has fought two wars, costly in lives lost and lives forever changed by battlefield scars. Financially, these wars were also costly -- more than a trillion dollars in national wealth. Yet we are now perched on the precipice of another war. President Obama recently told Iran he was not bluffing when he said that they would not be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon. Thirty two Senators of both parties recently told the president that they would back a U.S. military strike on Iran. We are moving, it seems, in a familiar direction.

Naturally, all parties, including the Israelis, pledge that sanctions are the preferred tool to prevent a nuclear Iran. Just as naturally, the U.S. and Israel are "keeping all options on the table." This too, is a familiar direction.

What is not being discussed amidst these bold statements, is what fighting yet a third war will cost and how we will pay for it. There is no conversation about whether our military, exhausted by two wars in the past decade, is prepared for war with Iran. There is no conversation about increasing taxes to pay for war, should war be inevitable. Nor, other than sanctions, is there much conversation about alternatives that should be pursued other than the United States taking a leading military role. What are and should other nations with interests in the region be prepared to do -- and pay for? This, sadly, is also a familiar direction.

While the administration maintains that it seeks no wider war with Iran, there is no assurance that a military strike by Israel or the U.S. will be a limited engagement. If Iran responds militarily in the Middle East, no one can predict the full demands this will place on U.S. forces. If Iran responds with terrorism on U.S. soil, no one can predict the costs in increased security and the loss of personal rights incurred to provide that security.

There is no argument in this piece with the stated intention of the Obama Administration -- though such a debate would be fruitful as well. Yet there should be considerable argument about how to achieve the administration's goal in a way that does not continue to weaken the United States. Further debt does just that, so if we are to go to war yet again, it is irresponsible to act as if paying for it is something we can figure out later. It is also irresponsible for most Americans to expect a volunteer force to continue to protect them without making sacrifices of their own to pay for and expand this force. Sadly, we seem moving in just those irresponsible -- and familiar -- directions.

We should recall that we broke the back of the Soviet Union in part by forcing it to spend itself into decline in a military arms race it could not sustain. We should also recall the fate of other overextended empires that exhausted their human and financial treasure, so weakening themselves from within that their power eroded and they became vulnerable from without.

With great responsibility on the world stage comes great responsibility on the domestic stage. We cannot continue to act as if the two are unrelated. The time for taking that responsibility is before missiles are fired, not after, when we will all wrap ourselves in the cloak of supporting the nation in yet another war. Looking back on Iraq and Afghanistan, many Americans have lost the fervor they initially had for these wars and wonder how we ever got into them. Wars always look different -- and more morally complex -- at their end then at their beginning. That too, is a familiar direction.