The Bush administration’s ham-handed attempts at nation-building featured dismantling the Iraqi military and efforts to rebuild it while trying to introduce democratic institutions in a country with no such traditions. The more than $1 trillion effort remains a long-term question mark. One thing seems certain: Iraq is far from the lighthouse of democracy that then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Congress it would become.
Afghanistan might have been different had the U.S. not all but abandoned the country after driving Osama bin Laden out in December 2001 and ending Taliban rule. Efforts to create a democratic government and build up national Afghan security forces have been hard.
Next year will be the test. The Afghans have set a presidential election in April, when most U.S. and coalition combat troops will have departed.
The 1991 Gulf War and, more recently, Libya and Mali, should be models for Syria. Each had U.N. backing, European country and/or neighboring nation military support with U.S. forces — after Kuwait — playing a secondary role.
Too many U.S. armchair strategists are pushing for military intervention without acknowledging its complexity.
Sustaining a no-fly zone is a far different operation than striking a few discreet targets from a short range and returning home, as the Israelis apparently did last week.
Finally, drop the idea that by providing some rebel groups limited military support, the United States, absent its own significant ground force, could have a major role in a post-war Syrian government.
Who really thinks Americans would be the right people to bring together the competing ethnic, religious and secular groups that make up the diverse Syrian populace? Nor could the United States provide the billions to rebuild the country and supervise the formation of a “stable democratic system” that Obama, Abrams — and probably most of us — would like to see emerge.
Walter Pincus reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for The Washingon Post and writes the Fine Print column.