By Barry Rubin
I am amazed at the current U.S. debate over Syria. Those urging intervention may be driven by humanitarian good intentions, to end the fighting and ease suffering. But whatever they are proposing–no-fly zones, safe havens, direct supply of weapons to rebels, etc—have they actually considered how four highly visible, recent precedents turned out?
Afghanistan: There is no question but that after September 11, 2001, the United States had to invade Afghanistan, destroy the al-Qaida infrastructure there, and overthrow its Taliban partner. Yet today, twelve years later U.S. troops are still in Afghanistan! The delusion of rebuilding that country has predictably failed. About 2200 Americans have died, many of them killed by Afghan “allies.” The Afghan government is not exactly “grateful.” The Taliban is still strong. Again, that war was necessary but how worthwhile was it and how expensive and difficult has it been for the United States to extricate itself. Even after 4 and one-half years of Barack Obama U.S. soldiers are still there.
Egypt: U.S. intervention in Egypt overthrew an ally. Many Egyptians now see, despite the talk about democracy, that they are worse off. Talk about freedom quickly turned into domination by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist mobs. The economy is going down the drain. Christians are under siege; women’s rights are shrinking. Other than a free media it is hard to see what Egyptians got out of it. Certainly, this intervention was a strategic defeat for the United States.
Iraq: Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, about 4500 American soldiers have been killed. Tens of billions of dollars have been spent. Whether or not the war was worthwhile can still be debated. The Iraqis have suffered greatly yet have also gained the most of the four cases cited here but it is still estimated that about 200,000 Iraqis have died, mainly in sectarian fighting, which still continues today though at a lower level. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein unleashed a Sunni-Shia war of terrorism that could be dwarfed by what might happen in Syria. The U.S. forces were said to be needed to remain in the country until a new Iraqi army was trained. On strategic grounds, Iraq has turned around sharply though it is still too friendly with Iran for U.S. tastes and supports the Bashar Assad regime in Syria. It is also a country where the vice-president had to flee after the prime minister charged him with terrorism.
Libya: In this case, U.S. involvement was indirect and caused no U.S. casualties. While the overthrow of dictator Muammar Qadhafi would have been a boon to U.S. strategic interests in earlier years, by the time it actually happened Qadhafi was relatively neutralized. Being governed by an elected regime may be counted as a gain for Libyans but anarchy, rule by militia, and extremism is still strong. Arms from Libyan arsenals were smuggled to terrorists in different countries. And of course the murder of four Americans in Benghazi shows the continued existence of terrorists—even al-Qaida—the weakness of …read more