In a piercing analysis, my colleague Kristin Roberts cut through the Democratic and Republican spin to describe two options we face in dealing with a "lethal, strategically smart, and tactically effective adversary."
The United States -- under Barack Obama or the next president -- can choose to sit this out, to let Sunni fight Shia and then Wahhabi fight Sunni until some resolution is found. The risk associated with this option is that what remains standing could be the slave-holding, woman-raping, Christian- and Jew-killing territory known as the Islamic State, which will not pause to relish victory but instead set sights on Europe and the United States.
Or the United States—under Barack Obama or the next president—can choose to engage aggressively, hoping that a greater assault than what's being accomplished by U.S. airpower and on-the-ground training will stop ISIS from destroying the governments in the region that still take Washington's calls. The cost of this choice is great: money and, more importantly, blood.
If you prefer the first option, this column isn't for you.
If you choose the course of conflict and sacrifice, understand that a "greater assault" would require considerably more U.S. aircraft, military advisers, and combat troops. Estimates for "boots on the ground" vary from 10,000 (Sen. John McCain and General Anthony Zinni, former head of Central Command) to 25,000 (military analysts Kim and Fred Kagan) in Iraq alone—and as high as 100,000 to completely destroy ISIS (former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell).
(RELATED: What ISIS Really Wants)
Whatever the number, it would be big—and would remain so for years, if not decades. Obama already is eying a network of bases in Iraq, which may need to remain indefinitely.
Also understand that a sustained fight against ISIS would demand a new stream of troops. This country has already asked too much of too few. Redeployments -- cycling the same men and women through combat again and again and again and again and again -- is unsustainable and unfair. Just a tiny fraction of society lives with the results: physical and mental injuries, personal finance and career problems, retirements and long-term disabilities.
One way to truly level the costs would be to reinstate the military draft and impose a war tax, the cause of liberal New York Democrat Charles Rangel, an 84-year-old Korean War veteran. "When I served, the entire nation shared the sacrifices through the draft and increased taxes, but today, only a fraction of America shoulders the burden," he said. "If war is truly necessary, we must all come together to support and defend our nation."
The Draft Act is highly unlikely to be law, given the nation's post-Vietnam resistance to the mandatory military service and the relative success of an all-volunteer armed forces. Which leads me to the year-of-service plan: It stops far short of a draft while drawing on the ethos of communal sacrifice.