This is the title of an article by David Bromwich to appear in the June 20 issue of The New York Review of Books. It is the best summary I have seen of the reasons President Obama should resist pressure to involve the U.S. more directly in the fighting now engulfing Syria.
In particular, Bromwich refutes the argument made recently by Bill Keller in The New York Times that we should “get over” Iraq. Keller, who once supported the Iraq war–which he now considers an “ill-fated adventure”—seems to be telling us that since he has refused to learn from experience, we should do the same. His advice regarding Syria is as wrong-headed as was his earlier approval of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. (I point this out reluctantly; Bill Keller is a fine journalist who covered Gorbachev’s Soviet Union with distinction and provided sound editorial leadership to The New York Times during some difficult years.)
Bromwich finds both our experience in Iraq and that following the intervention in the Libyan civil war as relevant to Syria. At the time , I supported the Libyan intervention, though with reservations. If we are going to intervene militarily in a local civil war we should do so with the authority of a Security Council vote and with the full cooperation of our allies and other countries in the region. The Libyan intervention initially met those conditions and thus avoided one (but by no means all) of the mistakes Bush-Cheney made with the decision to invade Iraq. The aftermath, however, including the attack on our consulate general in Benghazi and the dispersal of arms and jihadist fighters elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East should teach us, once again, that removing a dictatorship is not the same thing as establishing a stable and effective government.
Of course, the Syrian civil war is brutal as all civil wars are. The country may have already gone through a point of no return, in the consolidation of ethnic or confessional enclaves. This could well result in a fragmentation of the country. But that, with all its attendant problems, is surely preferable to the carnage which rages. The still-growing flood of refugees to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey is a mounting problem which the U.S. should do all it can to alleviate through humanitarian assistance.
Secretary of State Kerry has been wise to try to cooperate with Russia to encourage a negotiated solution. It is far from certain that the conference that he and Minister Lavrov have proposed will in fact be held. But even though the odds against its success are great, the proper course for both the United States and Russia is to act as peacemakers rather than active participants in a domestic struggle.