Ed Driscoll

Will Syria Be the Next Iraq?

“History has a way of surprising us,” James Taranto writes in his Best of the Web column today at the Wall Street Journal:

As in Iraq two decades ago, in Syria today all the major powers (including Russia, grudgingly) acknowledge a grave problem. But for varying reasons, none are prepared to take the kind of action that would be most expedient to solve it, namely toppling the Damascus regime by force. There are reasonable arguments that the costs and risks of such action make it an imprudent course. Even if one comes down on the other side of that question, such action is not in the cards anytime soon, for the political will to support it is lacking both in the U.S. and the “international community.”

Thus the practical objective of any U.N. resolution is to make a symbolic show of world disapproval for the Syrian regime’s actions while fulfilling the immediate political necessity of deferring any military action. Assuming the permanent Security Council members can come up with a way of finessing their differences in a compromise resolution, its effect will be to lock in the status quo–and Bashar Assad’s regime–until circumstances change.

With respect to Iraq, the circumstances did eventually change. An exogenous event–the massive terrorist attack against America 12 years ago today–made U.S. leaders and voters far more inclined toward decisive action. The U.N. resolutions helped set the stage, as Saddam’s history of defying them provided the casus belli. The Russians and French didn’t agree on that last point, but their objections were futile. American determination to remove Saddam was sufficient to get it done.

Could that history repeat itself? At this juncture it seems highly implausible. But then how plausible would the events of 2002-03 have seemed from the perspective of, say, 1998, when Congress enacted the Iraq liberation Act, which ostensibly made regime change official U.S. policy?

Our point here is not to argue that such an eventual outcome in Syria is likely or even desirable, merely to point out that history has a way of surprising us, so that one should be cautious about projecting current trends and attitudes into the future. If you have a time machine, try this experiment: Set it for February 1989, just after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Tell a dozen random people then that in 12½ years the U.S. and its allies will stage their own full-scale invasion of Afghanistan. Return to the present and let us know how they reacted to that prediction.

If you don’t have a time machine–and you don’t–the thought experiment will have to suffice. Or try this one: Imagine how people would have reacted in the summer of 2004, just after the Democratic Convention, to the prediction that nine years later Barack Obama and John Kerry would be pressing the case for military intervention in Syria–using overwrought Munich analogies, no less–and running up against even stronger resistance from Republicans than from Democrats.

Read the whole thing, and then check out the latest course offering from Prager University, which explores why America invaded Iraq — and begins in the 1980s, not November of 2000, which is when the American left chooses to believe that modern history began:

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Related: At the PJ Tatler, Charlie Martin asks, “What If We Actually Had A War On Terror?”