In debating a U.S. intervention in Syria, there has been a lot of talk about whether or not it would be comparable to Iraq. Advocates of intervention say “Syria is not Iraq,” and argue we have “over-learned the lessons of Iraq.” Opponents, like myself, say Syria is like Iraq and a direct military intervention would be a similarly catastrophic experience.
Many, like John McCain, cheerleader of “the surge,” view the overall U.S. war in Iraq as good and effective. To me, the calamitous failure in Iraq is not even debatable. But too much of this has focused on the war itself and whether or not there would be an insurgency long after the U.S. toppled Assad and so forth.
I’m surprised that advocates of U.S. intervention haven’t managed to acknowledge the current posture of Iraq vis-à-vis Syria. After our illegal and murderous war in Iraq, the decade of occupation, and persistent attempts to mold a future government there, the Iraqi regime of Nouri al-Maliki is allied with Syria (not to mention Iran). That, surely, is the real “lesson” to take to Syria: the U.S. cannot craft the outcome it wants.
Boiled down to its fundamentals, any advocate of any kind of U.S. intervention – everything from arming the rebels to a no-fly zone to boots on the ground – is really advocating that America change the regime in Syria. The “Assad must go” idea flows through every argument for direct action. And, like Iraq, the goal of these interventionists is to install a regime more amenable to perceived U.S. interests.
But even with an out-and-out military invasion and occupation that at one point totaled 166,000 troops, the U.S. couldn’t achieve that goal in Iraq. Hawks now view Assad as the new monster of the Middle East. Yet their beloved war in Iraq rendered a government which now supports the Syrian regime and has allowed Iranian overflights through their airspace to deliver supplies to Assad. U.S. officials have repeatedly lambasted the Maliki government for this only to be rebuffed by Baghdad.
Why isn’t this setting off alarm bells in the minds of interventionists? If the U.S. helps topple Assad, Washington will not be able to shape the future government there – and it could arguably be far worse than Assad even by the standards of Washington’s warped preferences.