The Libya example is in many ways illuminating: it was a classic case of the “slippery slope of escalated military involvement”—otherwise known as mission creep. The narrowly defined U.N. no-fly zone quickly morphed into offensive military airstrikes aimed at bringing down the regime. Qatar’s arms shipments ended up in the hands of extremists just as their arms to Syria were, until recently when the West—namely, the C.I.A.—stepped in to facilitate vetting. (“They say they’re able to get the humanitarian aid to the right people but they can’t get the arms to the right people,” McCain said on CNN. But of course the right targets of humanitarian aid are just people in general, extremist or otherwise, so long as they don’t hoard the supplies.)
These complications, elided by intervention advocates, are exactly what critics of intervention point to as the oversimplification of Syria: “Syria is an immensely complex sectarian civil war,” Sullivan wrote in his post. “It’s their country and we involve ourselves at our peril. Once we directly intervene in defense of one nebulous faction, we will deeply alienate another. We will be injecting the U.S. into a brutal religious and ethnic civil war.” Wanting to end the slaughter of Syrian civilians is a noble aim; the situation is a humanitarian catastrophe. But the moral imperative to protect civilians cannot be regarded in a vacuum, independent of the imperative to foresee a way out of the war for America. The Iraq analogies aren’t perfect, but the U.S. must guard against repeating the mistakes made there—namely, wishing away the complexities. After all, our intervention in Iraq was its own moral catastrophe.
I really want to accept Zaid Jilani’s arguments in favor of intervention (excellent diavlog, BTW). But, after two dishonest, failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and mission creep in Libya, I can’t trust my own government.