Walter Russell Mead ruins an otherwise good post on the Libyan war’s harmful consequences with this concluding paragraph:
As it is, we are just doing our best to ignore the rubble and move on, while many of the same people who pushed the Libya intervention try to gin up a new war in Syria. At least if we make a mess in Syria there is a strong national interest case for the intervention, and a small war in Syria might well reduce the risk of much uglier and nastier war with Iran.
In point of fact, many of the people responsible for promoting the Libyan war do not want to attack Syria. Neoconservative proponents of perpetual war are naturally always ready to support another unnecessary conflict, but that’s hardly surprising. Mead fails to mention that his editor was both a strong critic of the Libyan war and an equally impatient advocate for meddling in Syria. For the most part, there is not as much enthusiasm for a Syrian war among liberal interventionists, and there is at best limited liberal support for backing the Syrian opposition.
If “we make a mess in Syria,” it could be just as bad for U.S. interests as the Iraq debacle was, and the national interest case for intervening remains as unpersuasive as ever. A botched Syrian war would certainly be harmful to U.S. allies and clients in the region, to say nothing for the horror that it would unleash upon the people of Syria. If the U.S. became involved in Syria’s conflict, it wouldn’t be a “small war,” and it is unlikely that the effects of the conflict could be contained inside Syria. I fail to see how attacking Iran’s regional ally makes war with Iran less likely. Very much like advocates for attacking Iran, advocates for intervention in Syria take no account of the possible costs or unintended consequences of what they’re proposing. What makes it especially risible in this case is that it comes at the end of a post in which Mead is lamenting the numerous unintended consequences of an ill-conceived military intervention. Mead is right to wonder what the U.S. gained in the Libyan war, but he badly undermines his own criticism by suggesting that the U.S. has something to gain by doing the same thing in Syria.