Why Syria Could Be Another Iraq

An Iraqi hospital worker inspects burned

Robert Kaplan considers the parallels:

The supporters of robust military intervention are not sufficiently considering how things could become even worse after the demise of dictator Bashar al Assad, with full-scale anarchy perhaps in the offing; how Assad might still serve a cold-blooded purpose by containing al Qaeda in the Levant; how four or five steps ahead the United States might find itself owning or partially owning the situation on the ground in an anarchic Syria; how the American public’s appetite for military intervention in Syria might be less than they think; and how a long-term commitment to Syria might impede American influence in other regional theaters. The Obama administration says it does not want a quagmire and will avoid one; but that was the intention of the younger Bush administration, too.

He admits that “each war or intervention is different in a thousand ways than any other” and that “Syria will unfold in its own unique manner.” But he can’t help but see the similarities:

[A] happy outcome in Syria usually requires a finely calibrated strategy from the beginning. The Bush administration did not have one in Iraq, evinced by the absence of post-invasion planning. And, at least as of this writing, the Obama administration seems to lack one as well. Instead, it appeared until recently to be backing into a military action that it itself only half-heartedly believes in. That, more than any of the factors I have mentioned above, is what ultimately gives me pause.

The key issue to me is what plan do we have for the demise of Assad? None, so far as I can see. Bob is absolutely right to see anarchy as the most logical result.

And it’s truly outrageous for unrepentant supporters of the Iraq war to make the very same mistake as they did last time – not thinking through the full consequences of action. If you remove a Shiite dictator who has run a brutally sectarian regime against a Sunni majority – after the kinds of atrocities we have seen so far – you will get a cycle of massive revenge. You will get ethnic cleansing of the Alawites; mass murder of Christians; and appalling violence. In that climate, Sunni Jihadists will thrive. I simply cannot see how any political resolution is possible in a country designed to make such resolutions impossible. Which is why, not deposing or helping to depose Assad is, it seems to me, the least worst option for the foreseeable future.

And this is the conservative position. History matters; culture matters. You cannot by force of arms undo decades of history or centuries of religious conflict. We saw that so plainly in Iraq. And yet some seem criminally blind to it now – and dare to call themselves conservatives.

(Photo: An Iraqi hospital worker inspects burned bodies outside the morgue of a hospital in the restive Iraqi city of Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, 23 April 2007. The victims were killed when a bomber exploded his car near the city council building, killing four policemen, police Lieutenant Ahmed Ali from Baquba said. The attack wounded another 25 people, many of them policemen, he added. By Ali Tueijri/AFP/Getty Images.)