Walter Russell Mead | Misery is Humanitarians’ Gift to Syria

Wilsonians didn’t start screwing up in the Middle East last spring; they’ve had more than a century of policy failure there. America’s long engagement with and support of the Armenians ended in mass killings that we did nothing about. 160 years of American efforts to bolster the situation of Christians throughout the Middle East materially contributed to the destruction of these communities. American calls on Iraqi Shiites to rise against Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War ended in the massacres and betrayals for which today we are still paying a price. The democracy Americans paid such a price to establish in Iraq has been a mixed blessing at best for the people of that still-violent land. The intervention in Libya has probably led to a greater loss of life, and certainly done more to undermine the stability of both Libya and its neighbors, than if we had stayed out.

American motives in all these cases were mixed, but were basically good. Yet the consequence, as with our periodic backing for the aspirations of the Kurds, followed by periodic pirouettes away, have often been catastrophic for those we sought to help.

In Syria today the effect of our intervention in Libya, our fine sounding words about our noble humanitarian goals, and our subsequent dithering and slow diplomatic slog has been to exacerbate a situation that we hoped to relieve. American policy has once again helped push a situation in a direction that we would have preferred to avoid.


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