Mark Lagon invokes Jeane Kirkpatrick in the Syria debate:
Her qualms [regarding the Iraq war] and preference for another avenue offer insights for leadership and multilateral action today, especially regarding Syria.
What preference would that be? Lagon writes:
Yet the Kirkpatrick preference is another viable option—embodied by the “Reagan Doctrine” aid to insurgencies against Soviet-backed governments in Angola, Nicaragua, Cambodia, and Afghanistan.
Lagon reviews the record of the Reagan Doctrine in Nicaragua to assess its value for assisting “global governance”:
The Reagan era cases highlight two prerequisites for this option to serve global governance. One test is the will and capacity of the United States and the international community to follow through and help an insurgency transition into an efficacious, pluralism-protecting government. The United States neglected Nicaragua after aiding the Contras. Then U.S. secretary of state James Baker reportedly said that Central America after the Cold War should return to the back pages of the newspaper. Nicaragua has been mired in acute poverty and corruption with not-so-benign neglect. Ironically, the Sandinistas are once again in power with the same illiberal President, Daniel Ortega.
Rather than concluding that the entire effort was a costly waste of resources and lives, Lagon considers Ortega’s later return to power to be proof that the U.S. and the “international community” failed to “follow through” in Nicaragua, as if the purpose of U.S. policy in Nicaragua had been to establish an “efficacious, pluralism-protecting government.” Since U.S. involvement in Nicaragua was purely instrumental and had no purpose by the end of the Cold War, it would have been strange if the U.S. had not neglected Nicaragua. Considering how many Nicaraguans were killed thanks in part to our attention to the country, one might think that neglect would be preferable. This should remind us that active support for an armed insurgency is intended to inflict more damage and create greater instability and disorder in a country to the detriment of the existing regime. If “global governance” means anything, stoking someone else’s sectarian civil war isn’t part of it.
When it comes to Syria, Lagon isn’t simply proposing a revival of the Reagan Doctrine, but argues for a much larger and longer U.S. commitment:
While indigenous actors, local sanctuary states, and great power patrons like the United States may have some parochial interests involved, it would be wise to back the best of the insurgents before a slaughter already claiming tens of thousands of civilians balloons further. That is, as long as the United States pays close attention to the nature of who it backs and is prepared to follow through helping a new state govern and govern justly [bold mine-DL].
Of course, to “back the best of the insurgents” presumably means “fund them and arm them heavily,” which will contribute to additional slaughter. The “parochial interests” that Lagon mentions in passing aren’t incidental to the policy he’s proposing. Those “parochial interests” will make all the difference in determining what Syria turns into during and after the conflict. What does Lagon see in the recent American experiences in nation-building overseas that give him any confidence that the U.S. is either willing or able to “follow through helping a new state govern” in Syria?