Losing a war is much easier than winning one. Before the United States enters Syria, it should ask itself a series of questions. Can it take out the regime of Bashar al Assad easily? Answer—most likely yes, in the manner that the “lead from behind” air war decapitated Muammar Gadhafi’s rule. Is the aim of an American-led intervention to foster a postwar consensual government? If so, postbellum Libya reminds us that without Americans on the ground, Arab idealists usually go the way of the Mensheviks in Russia or of Abulhassan Banisadr’s secular socialists in Iran. In addition, Iraq warns us that putting U.S. ground forces into an Arab Middle East country could ensure some sort of constitutional succession—but most likely at material and moral costs that very quickly would be too high even for the present supporters who are calling for a “humane” intervention Syria.
If history is any guide, if we cannot articulate the purpose of entering Syria, the sort of government that we wish to follow the Assad regime, and how much blood and treasure we are willing to spend to obtain that end, then we may well lose the war before it starts.
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