Vanessa Drucker: The price of intervention in Syria?

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Americans, like all civilized people, are appalled by reports of brutal chemical attacks on Syrian civilians. Notwithstanding, America has little stomach for another Middle Eastern war.

A recent CNN poll found 46 per cent versus 49 per cent were against using air power, with only 32 per cent versus 64 per cent who favored arming the rebels. Major polls have been fairly consistent, last December with 65 per cent against supplying arms, and that number only falling to 45 per cent in April, when the first claims of chemical weapons surfaced.

Why such reluctance to engage? Essentially, informed observers recognize that that the Syrian opposition is dominated by fundamental Islamists, and they are not inclined to write checks to Al Qaeda affiliates.

But this is a financial blog, so consider the economic implications.

America is still smarting from costly adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, which turned out vastly more expensive than anticipated. Iraq alone has already consumed $1.7trn, while future projections, including the cost of veteran care, run to $2.2trn. A charge for interest on the debt incurred brings the total to $3.9trn by 2053. Distant future extrapolations are naturally hazy. This month, however, Harvard professor Linda Bilmes noted that the $2trn already spent represented 20 per cent of America’s public debt from 2001 to 2012.

As economist Ludwig von Mises wrote “war and revolution are always bad business…”, though he added that some economic benefits may compensate victors. Remember the subtext about invading Iraq to protect the oil price? Today crude sells for about $110 per barrel, more than double the levels of 2003. That’s cold comfort.

Vanessa Drucker is the American editor of Fund Strategy magazine