Lessons Not Learned

by Doug Allen

Jackson Diehl defends his interventionist stance on both Iraq and Syria:

Iraq was unquestionably costly and painful to the United States — in dollars, in political comity and, above all, in lives, both of Iraqis and Americans. It hasn’t turned out, so far, as we war supporters hoped. Yet in the absence of U.S. intervention, Syria is looking like it could produce a much worse humanitarian disaster and a far more serious strategic reverse for the United States. … The tragedy of the post-Iraq logic embraced by President Obama is that it has ruled out not just George W. Bush-style invasions but also the more modest intervention used by the Clinton administration to prevent humanitarian catastrophes and protect U.S. interests in the 1990s.

Larison scoffs:

One lesson from Iraq that many war opponents have learned is that the U.S. shouldn’t be waging unnecessary wars that serve no discernible U.S. interest. That isn’t the wrong lesson to learn. It’s one that Diehl simply ignores, which is probably why he never really addresses how it would serve U.S. interests to go to war in Syria.

Another lesson is that forcibly collapsing a regime creates far more instability and chaos than leaving it in place would. There is no likely scenario in which hastening regime collapse would have limited the loss of life and displacement of civilians in Syria. …

Military interventions almost always take longer than expected, and that’s always true for interventions that are sold to the public by emphasizing how low-cost and easy they will be. Take an interventionist’s original estimate for how long a given military action will take, and then multiply it by ten or fifteen and you’ll be closer to the real figure. One of the reasons no one trusts the promises of Iraq war hawks is that they were promising a swift and easy war in 2003, too, and all that many of them can say after an eight-year debacle is that it “hasn’t turned out, so far, as we war supporters hoped.”