Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of (humanitarian) war. That, at least, is what much of the U.S. policy elite seems to be pushing for these days in Syria. That many of the "permahawks," like Fouad Ajami, Max Boot, and Elliott Abrams, who championed the George W. Bush administration's decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein, are now calling for supporting the uprising against Bashar al-Assad's dictatorship should come as no surprise to anyone. Nor should similar calls from most of the liberal writers and editors associated with the New Republic magazine come as a shock. They, too, have been remarkably consistent, and the magazine's current symposium on what needs to be done next in Syria is eerily reminiscent of the one it ran the year after the invasion of Iraq.Our intervention in Libya took place under what I would consider the best possible scenario: an appealing rebel movement that already controlled much of the country, a wildly unpopular dictator with no foreign friends to speak of, a desert country with few large cities, well suited to air warfare, and (especially) a country with no ethnic troubles. And still the result has so far fallen well short of a human rights triumph.
Intervention in Syria would be much, much harder. Assad's regime has much support, especially from the country's religious minorities (Alwaite, Shi'ite, and Christian), and vastly more firepower than Qaddafi. Also, most Syrians live in large cities and densely populated districts where bombing would be impractical. It would be like Iraq, or worse. And need I remind everyone that as a result of our intervention there, 100,000 to 150,000 Iraqis died? Do the people who supported the invasion feel no remorse about that? Do they not care about the 100,000 Syrians who could easily die if we invade there, or give the rebels the arms they need for a real civil war? Who would take over if Assad falls, and, if the new leaders are from the Sunni majority, what will their policy be toward Alawites, Shi'ites, and Christians?
That serious people want to open this Pandora's box makes me wonder.