"The American people are weary. They don't want boots on the ground. I don't want boots on the ground. The worst thing the United States could do right now is put boots on the ground in Syria."
That was the leading Senate hawk favoring U.S. intervention in Syria's civil war. But by ruling out U.S. ground troops, John McCain was sending, perhaps unintentionally, another message: There is no vital U.S. interest in Syria's civil war worth shedding the blood of American soldiers and Marines.
Thus does America's premier hawk support the case made by think-tank scholars Owen Harries and Tom Switzer in their American Interest essay, "Leading from Behind: Third Time a Charm?"
There is in the U.S.A. today, they write, "a reluctance to commit American blood."
A legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan "is an unwillingness of the American public to take casualties on behalf of less than truly vital challenges. ... While such concerns may be admirable ... they are incompatible with a superpower posture and pretensions to global leadership."
You cannot be the "indispensable nation" if you reflexively recoil at putting "boots on the ground."
"If a nation is not prepared to take casualties, it should not engage in the kind of policies likely to cause them. If it is not prepared to take casualties, it should resign itself to not having the kind of respect from others that a more resolute nation could expect."
About the author's premise, that Americans are reluctant to take casualties, is there any doubt?
To demonstrate this, we need only address a few questions.
Would we be willing to send another army of 170,000 to stop a Sunni-Shia war that might tear Iraq apart? Would the American people support sending 100,000 troops, again, to fight to keep Afghanistan from the clutches of the Taliban?
To ask these questions is to answer them.
Should Kim Jong Un attack across the DMZ with his million-man army and seize Seoul, would Barack Obama's America, like Harry Truman's America, send a third of a million U.S. soldiers and Marines to drive the North out? Or would we confine our support to the South, under our security treaty, to air, sea and missile strikes -- from above and afar?
Under NATO, the United States is required to assist militarily any member nation that is a victim of aggression.
If Moscow occupied Estonia or Latvia in a dispute over mistreatment of its Russian minorities, would we declare war or send U.S. troops to fight Russians in the Baltic?
Would we fight the Chinese to defend the Senkakus?