Ask Fareed Zakaria Anything: Misjudging Iraq

In today’s video from Fareed, he reviews how wrong he was about the Iraq War:

In an op-ed yesterday, Fareed restated his opposition to our intervention in Syria, highlighting the United States’ historical tendency to screw up such affairs:

In the mid-1980s, the scholar Samuel Huntington pondered why the United States, the world’s dominant power — which had won two world wars, deterred the Soviet Union and maintained global peace — was so bad at smaller military intervention.

Since World War II, he noted, the United States had engaged militarily in a series of conflicts around the world, and in almost every case the outcome had been inconclusive, muddled or worse. Huntington concluded that we rarely entered conflicts actually trying to win. Instead, he reasoned, U.S. military intervention has usually been sparked by a crisis, which put pressure on Washington to do something. But Americans rarely saw the problem as one that justified getting fully committed. So, we would join the fight in incremental ways and hope that this would change the outcome. It rarely does. (More recent conflicts where we have succeeded — the 1990 Persian Gulf War, Grenada and Panama — were all ones where we did fight to win, used massive force and achieved a quick, early knockout.)

In Syria, we have lofty ends but no one wants to use the means necessary to achieve them. So we are now giving arms to the opposition and hoping this will bring the regime to the negotiating table or force it to strike a deal. But, as Huntington observed, “military forces are not primarily instruments of communication to convey signals to an enemy; they are instead instruments of coercion to compel him to alter his behavior.”

He adds that if Obama is indeed engaging in some kind of clever realpolitik, it is with “Machiavellian rather than humanitarian” intent. Fareed also made an argument against intervening in Syria in a previous AA answer.

If you want to keep track of his other work, Fareed Zakaria GPS airs Sundays on CNN, as well as via podcast, and he is also an Editor-at-Large of TIME Magazine, a Washington Post columnist, and the author of The Post-American WorldThe Future of Freedom, and From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America’s World Role. Fareed’s previous AA videos are here. Our full AA archive is here.