Some would say that we don’t need boots on the ground, as proved by the Libyan intervention. Really? Libya is an example of the let’s-send-them-some-arms-and-hope-we-get-lucky approach. Let’s remove the Gadhafi regime from the air, arm the rebels on the ground and then hope they come together and produce a decent, pluralistic democracy. So far, we’ve not been very lucky.
Our debate about Libya has been focused entirely on the sacking of our facility in Benghazi, but the proper debate should be about why there was — and remains — such a security vacuum in eastern Libya in the first place. The transition government has not been strong enough to bring order to Libya, and the instability there has metastasized. As Reuters reported from Benghazi on Wednesday, “Libya remains anarchic and awash with weapons nearly two years after” Moammar Gadhafi was toppled.
In Syria, we would be hoping that, with just small arms, the rebels could at least fight Assad & Friends to a stalemate so the regime would agree to negotiate Assad’s departure. Even if by some miracle that were to happen, so much more blood would be spilled along the way that we would still need an international peacekeeping force to referee any post-Assad power-sharing deal. All volunteers, please raise your hand.
Those are the options as I see it. None feel very good because those in Syria who are truly fighting for a democratic outcome are incredibly brave, but weak and divided. Fighting for democratic values — rather than for family, sect, tribe or Shariah — is still a new thing for these societies. Those who are fighting for a sectarian or Islamist outcome, though, are full of energy and well financed. That’s why staying out guarantees that only more bad things will happen, but going in, big or small, would not guarantee success. And that’s why I’d like to hear which option Obama is pursing and why he thinks it would succeed.