The world is learning that the bar for U.S. intervention abroad is being set much higher. This is due to a confluence of the end of the Soviet Union’s existential threat, the experience of investing too many lives and $2 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan to little lasting impact, America’s rising energy independence, our intelligence successes in preventing another 9/11 and the realization that to fix what ails the most troubled countries in the world of disorder is often beyond our skill set, resources or patience.
In the Cold War, policy-making was straightforward. We had “containment.” It told us what to do and at almost any price. Today, Obama’s critics say he must do “something” about Syria. I get it. Chaos there can come around to bite us. If there is a policy that would fix Syria, or even just stop the killing there, in a way that was self-sustaining, at a cost we could tolerate and not detract from all the things we need to do at home to secure our own future, I’m for it.
But we should have learned some lessons from our recent experience in the Middle East: First, how little we understand about the social and political complexities of the countries there; second, that we can — at considerable cost — stop bad things from happening in these countries but cannot, by ourselves, make good things happen; and third, that when we try to make good things happen we run the risk of assuming the responsibility for solving their problems, a responsibility that truly belongs to them.
What Friedman doesn't mention is that while he was calling for war with Iraq back in 2002, an obscure state senator from Illinois was cautioning against it.