I supported the removal of Saddam Hussein and the difficult effort to leave a consensual government in his wake — the most controversial intervention of the last 20 years that nonetheless was authorized by both houses in Congress on 23 writs and stopped the Iraqi model of turning oil revenue into regional attacks and invasions. But in the case of Syria, the obvious advantages of seeing an end to Assad — offering freedom to the populace, stopping the government killing of its own, ending Syria’s corruption of Lebanon, disrupting the Iran/Hezbollah/Syria nexus — are for now certainly outweighed by a number of factors:
1) We have no reason to believe that minorities will be any better off in the chaos to come.
2) We do not know the composition of the opposition, but can reasonably assume from other recent revolutions that there will be a likelihood of seeing one election one time, in the Gaza model that brings in Islamists.
3) We cannot point to postbellum violence and chaos in Libya as any sort of model. The manner in which we exceeded the U.N. resolutions in Libya and ignored the U.S. Congress ensures we cannot do that again. There is no oil in Syria or nearby bases in Italy to attract allied French and British jets. We are not responsible for Assad’s carnage, but we will be for his successors’ violence, as we see in Libya with the ongoing gratuitous racial and tribal murdering. And if help is sold on humanitarian rather than strategic grounds, then there are far greater mass killings in Africa that simply go ignored.
At a recent conference I attended of some 25 military historians, defense analysts, and former and current military officers, the group, as an aside, was asked how many favored some (even the most minimum) sort of intervention to help topple Assad, not a single hand went up. Finally, at a time of record budget deficits, 40 months of 8-plus percent unemployment, weak economic growth, defense cuts, and the war in Afghanistan, there is very little, if any, public support for intervening in some manner in Syria. In political terms, there are lots of areas — reset with Russia, distance from Israel, strained relationships with allies, cold/hot/cold attitudes toward the war in Afghanistan — where the Obama administration projects weakness and invites foreign adventurism, but caution in Syria is not an issue that the Romney campaign should use against the president.