Whoa, fellow Americans. Before we start demanding that the United States send thousands of young women and men to die in the Middle East again, let’s think this through.

As former Secretary of State Colin Powell famously said: Don’t go to war unless you know how it will end.

Yes, after the terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere, we are all angry, frustrated and frightened by the brutality and inhumanity of the Islamic State, which sprang up after we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan (although 9/11 was carried out by Saudis), fueling a fierce hatred of America and, now, anyone who stands in their way.

The Islamic State kills without compunction or distinction — Muslims, Christians, Jews, men, women, children. They torture and rape. They rank with the most evil people who have ever inhabited the Earth. They are destroyers of civilization, both remnants of the past and current icons of it.

But we just went through the longest war in our history and what did we gain? Nothing. We lost thousands of lives, thousands more sustained life-altering injuries and we spent enormous sums of money. Some think we pulled out too soon. Too soon? After more than a decade? People who make this case are basically saying we should have become an occupying army for years and continued ignoring our problems at home.

Putting our soldiers on the ground in Syria would put them in the middle of the fight between Syrian government forces led by a brutal dictator and the Islamic State, which is a malevolent virus spreading across the Middle East. And we would be there for years. Putting American soldiers in Syria and back in Iraq is exactly what the Islamic State wants: It will capture and behead as many as possible and use the American presence to recruit more unemployed, angry, disaffected young people to expand its ranks from the tens of thousands the Islamic State has now.

Do the more-boots-on-the-ground advocates not know that Congress has cut our armed forces by 40,000, and that after more than a decade of war, our armed forces must rebuild? Do they not understand that you must have infrastructure for thousands of troops — shelter, food, ammunition, fuel, transportation, medics. It is very expensive; it is not done overnight.

Those who say we have done nothing to fight the Islamic State are wrong. Certainly, the pilots who have flown 8,000 hazardous missions over Syria and Iraq don’t think this is a do-nothing stage in the U.S. effort to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State. President Barack Obama is pleading for our patience: “The (multi-pronged) strategy that we are putting forward is the strategy that ultimately is going to work.”

Diplomatic talks in Vienna are progressing on ousting Bashar Assad from Syria and stabilizing the country, key to destroying the Islamic State. The U.S. can’t defeat the Islamic State alone.

But we are in an election season, and the administration is bombarded daily by unending assaults by Republicans running for the White House on the president’s intelligence, commitment, patriotism — everything he does or says. And the language they use is strident, bombastic and often ill-considered. Half the country thinks this president can’t do anything right and will criticize him no matter what he does.

We don’t know how to have polite discourse any longer, so we can’t even seem to discuss the awesome and awful prospect of going full-out to war rationally.

The debate about sending Americans back to war in the Middle East also has been muddled by the outpouring of venom against Obama for planning to take in a tiny percentage of hundreds of thousands of homeless Syrian families fleeing the killing. If the Statue of Liberty had a soul, she would be quivering in disbelief.

As winter settles over Europe, children are going to die, but that does not seem to matter to those who think our asylum procedures are so inadequate that the Islamic State terrorists will flood this country. Never mind that there are tough procedures for refugees entering this country that take 18 to 24 months, a lot of documentation, a lot of interviews. There are multiple screening levels; many requests are denied. Our system has worked.

Let us not destroy our values out of fear.

Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Email at [email protected]