Paul Pillar rejects the illusion of generating gratitude through military intervention in another country:
Several things are happening to account for these results, and can be expected to happen again if the United States were to immerse itself more deeply in the current conflict in Syria. One is that there never is much genuine gratitude in the first place. There is at most a tactical “enemy of my enemy is my friend” approach by belligerents willing to take aid from the devil if it will help them to win the next street battle. When circumstances change (as they will when Bashar Assad falls), the illusion of friendship is dispelled.
One of the common and frequently false themes in interventionist arguments is that U.S. military action or military aid will generate goodwill towards America and a “failure” to become involved in someone else’s conflict will generate resentment. There have been some cases when the response to U.S. intervention has been one of gratitude, but these are usually outweighed by the enormous ill-will created in many other countries by the same intervention. Even when the U.S. is viewed more favorably by one group or nation because of its involvement in a conflict, it alienates and angers several others even more.
Obtaining gratitude is a very poor reason to become embroiled in another country’s conflict, but even when it “works” it often comes at a higher cost in terms of worsened relations with other countries. Even if the Iraq war had produced as much gratitude as its supporters promised (and it produced nothing of the kind), it would still have come at the cost of near-universal anti-American sentiment in Turkey, which has yet to dissipate even now, and significant drops in U.S. favorability all over the world. Even if the U.S. provided more support to the Syrian opposition and won some goodwill, the hostility from other quarters that this would generate would more than match it.
Pillar was commenting on one story that discussed the growing resentment against the U.S. in the Syrian opposition because of American “neglect,” but as I read his post I was reminded of another recent report on the growing anti-Americanism among secular Syrians and Syria’s religious minorities, who believe the U.S. is doing far too much for the opposition already:
The seeming indifference of the international community to the worsening condition of Syria’s religious minorities — and the near total absence of censure of the opposition forces by the Western governments arrayed against Assad — is breeding a bitter anti-Americanism among many secular Syrians who see the United States aligning itself with Saudi Arabia, the fount of Wahhabism, against the Arab world’s most resolutely secular state.
Would anyone suggest that the U.S. start supporting Syria’s religious minorities against the opposition to stop this anti-Americanism from increasing? Obviously not. Directly taking sides in another country’s civil war will inevitably generate resentment and hostility from whichever side the U.S. doesn’t take. Why is the resentment of one side in the conflict any worse than the other? To the extent that the U.S. has been taking the opposition’s side, it is already doing more than it should, which is reflected in the anti-Americanism growing among the minority communities.
Even when there is some gratitude to be won, interventionists often grossly overstate the benefits. The Libyan war wasn’t just going to make Libyan rebels grateful. It was supposed to improve the image of the U.S. throughout the region. The Libyan war did not make a dent in regional attitudes toward the U.S., because support for the intervention in Libya was actually quite low elsewhere in North Africa and the Near East. Intervention in Kosovo likewise had no effect on Muslim views of U.S. foreign policy elsewhere in the world, and it was strange to think that it would. Hawkish interventionists have expected gratitude for Kosovo, Bosnia, and Somalia while conveniently ignoring what the U.S. was doing to Iraq both before and after the invasion. Worse still, many Iraq war supporters continued to expect Iraqis and Muslims worldwide to show the U.S. gratitude for the “liberation” of Iraq. Even after the Iraq war was over, some war supporters keep blaming Iraqis for their ingratitude as the best way to make sense of why the war went so badly.