Can We Really Do Better In Syria Than We Did in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya?

A lot could go wrong if the U.S. gets involved in Syria's civil war.

CC BY NDCC BY NDAversion therapy is a process used to deter people from engaging in self-destructive habits by subjecting them to painful sensations whenever they do -- say, giving them an electric shock when they light a cigarette or take a drink. The idea is that soon they will learn that these once-pleasurable pastimes are something to avoid.

We have all had years of aversion therapy for our addiction to military intervention. But it's had a strange effect on John McCain: The worse it hurts, the more he wants to keep doing it. The American public may be weary after more than a dozen years of nonstop war, but McCain is eager to wade into a new fight in Syria.

He was there on Memorial Day, having sneaked in to meet rebels fighting the government of Bashar Assad. The trip was obviously intended to put pressure on President Barack Obama, who has so far resisted demands from McCain and other Republicans to help the insurgency with air power and weapons.

Why anything McCain does should influence Obama is a mystery. The endorsement of the Syrian rebels comes from the wise mind that thought Sarah Palin should be one heartbeat away from the nuclear codes. It was no secret in 2008 that McCain would be more apt than Obama to launch random invasions of countries Palin couldn't find on a map. For some reason, the American people opted for Obama.

But the president seems open to the idea that his opponent was right. He reportedly has ordered the Defense Department to draft a plan to impose a no-fly zone over Syria. That sounds neat, safe and antiseptic. But it means going to war, a momentous enterprise that rarely goes as planned.

American military intervention over the past 12 years has been a trail of tears, littered with pulverized buildings, dead bodies and piles of burning cash. We have a reverse Midas touch: Every success turns to failure.

Remember when President George W. Bush mounted a military surge to stave off defeat in Iraq? Foreign policy hawks regard that as his greatest achievement. But today, the country is sliding toward civil war. April was the deadliest month in nearly five years, with 712 people killed, and May has been nearly as bad. Some 66 people died in bombings on Monday, bringing the month's fatalities to more than 500.

Afghanistan is no place to find reasons for hope. Our allies in the Afghan army are distrustful of us, often hostile and generally substandard in performance. Last year, "insider" attacks by supposedly friendly Afghan security personnel killed 61 troops from the U.S.-led coalition forces.

We have been there since 2001, and there is no happy resolution in sight. The former top commander in Afghanistan, retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, says that "there's going to be an international military presence in Afghanistan for a long time."

Libya looked like the mission that finally changed our luck: We unleashed air power, toppled the regime of Moammar Gadhafi and made a brisk exit. But things haven't gone quite as swimmingly as we had hoped. Maybe you've heard of Benghazi?

That disaster may be the least of our troubles. The Daily Beast reports that the upheaval in Libya has been a boon to al-Qaida: "Libya has now become the main base of the terror group in the region, heightening the instability of what is already a volatile country."

If we still can't make these countries right, why do we assume we'll do better in Syria? It could easily turn out worse. McCain says U.S. ground troops won't be needed, but what if we take on Assad and he survives? Once we commit to his removal, interventionists will demand that we expand the fight rather than abandon it.

And what if a limited intervention does work? Our reward could be a government worse than the current dictatorship. One of the chief rebel factions is publicly affiliated with al-Qaida -- and others are equally extreme in outlook. U.S. intervention may deliver victory to people we wouldn't dream of letting through a TSA checkpoint.

If we go to war in Syria, it will be without any real assurance of what it will take, how long it will last, how many lives we'll lose and what the outcome will be. But if the past is any guide, we'll do it, and we'll be sorry we did.

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  • Drake||

    Looks like he's holding a warhead from a cluster-bomb. If so, he's an idiot.

  • ||

    Tail of a mortar round.

  • Drake||

    I was thinking maybe a 60mm but it looked too small (in the small low-res picture).

  • ||

    Incidentally, a something search for cluster munitions images provides some pretty amazing stuff. Apparently no one outside the US believes in making their stuff bright colors.

  • Drake||

    First Gulf War - the stuff was everywhere in Kuwait. Any of the bomblets that don't fall straight down don't explode. They just lay sidewise waiting for a Private to kick one while tacking a piss.

    We used to surround them with glow sticks whenever we stopped.

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  • Jon Lester||

    khimkiforest dot com. You will care.

  • Free Society||

    Chapman, surprisingly, you aren't licking the jackboot of this administration in this article. Scanning through I haven't seen any of your usual intellectually inconsistent and thoroughly pseudo-libertarian musings. I'm going to mail you a cookie.

  • Lyle||

    We are not going to intervene. That ship has sailed. We will only intervene if Assad loses and the mujaheddin start genociding minority groups. Even then we may stay out.

    We should let them kill and mutilate each other, and let Syria become balkanized into different sectors of influence.

    A weak, balkanized Syria is probably geopolitically better for us anyway.

  • johnl||

    We should be advancing a plan for balkanization now.

  • ChrisO||

    I read recently that Syria is already balkanizing itself into a Sunni sector, a Shiite/Alwawite sector, and a Kurdish sector. Whether that turns into formal states or not is probably irrelevant.

  • Lyle||

    Yes, this is true.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    B-b-b-b-b-but Lyle! Nation-states are superior to tribalism! Everybody says so!

  • Lyle||

    Haha... nation-states are normally based around a single tribe. Why do you think there are some many different countries in Europe?

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Germany used to be a lot of smaller tribes/nation-states before the Kaiser brought them to heel. Same with the Italians.

    But there was a basketful of handwringing going on about the split of Czechloslovakia, and currently about "Balkanization" in Libya and Somalia.

    The general attitude towards so-called Balkanization is "what imperialists have brought together, let no man put asunder."

  • Lyle||

    True, but they were all tribes who spoke a common or similar language, and were of the same ethnicity.

    I think the U.S. supported the velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, and definitely supported the balkanization of the Balkans.

  • ChrisO||

    The endorsement of the Syrian rebels comes from the wise mind that thought Sarah Palin should be one heartbeat away from the nuclear codes.

    I hate to say it, but I'd trust Sarah Palin with the nuclear football far more than I do Valerie Jarrett.

  • wwhorton||

    At one heartbeat I imagine she'd still be further away from the codes than Ms. Plame, who appears to keep them in her purse.

  • seguin||

    I'm still not entirely clear why Obama is considered smarter than Palin, other than being a slightly better speaker, but damn am I glad McCain got a little knee-groin action with this kerfuffle. That sleazy arrogant sumbitch had it coming.

    That being said, this is one of the more tolerable Chapman articles, although it's funny that he doesn't mention Obama in the same paragraph Libya. But I guess asking for that would be pushing my luck.

  • Sevo||

    This time, it'll be different!
    This time, it'll be different!
    This time, it'll be different!
    This time, it'll be different!
    This time, it'll be different!
    This time, it'll be different!
    I swear!

  • Anonymous Coward||

    But it's had a strange effect on John McCain: The worse it hurts, the more he wants to keep doing it. The American public may be weary after more than a dozen years of nonstop war, but McCain is eager to wade into a new fight in Syria.

    The man is manic. Despite his official designation as a "war hero," he is utterly incompetent when it comes to fighting wars, either as a pilot or a strategist. So he is desperate to prove his own fictional bona fides, resulting him backing any and all foolhardy foreign adventures, irrespective of the costs in blood and treasure, or the clarity of the objective.

  • loritiggs775||

    my neighbor's step-sister makes $84 an hour on the computer. She has been out of work for five months but last month her pay check was $17822 just working on the computer for a few hours. Here's the site to read more http://www.Taz1.com

  • Ron||

    simpsl answer to your opening question. "NO"

  • Alyna_Cleo||

    like Antonio explained I didn't even know that anybody can get paid $8612 in 4 weeks on the computer. have you seen this web site Click Here

  • DenverJay||

    But, the troops have to war, that's their job! Why don't you support the troops, Chapman?

  • TWylite||

    Yeah, but this time it's going to be different I swear. C'mon, just give me one more war. Baby needs a new pair of combat boots.

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