We successfully removed Saddam Hussein from Iraq. And by nobly staying on with thousands of troops, we defeated an insurgency and finally birthed a constitutional system in Iraq that is still viable -- but at a cost that the American public felt was not worth the eventual outcome.
In Libya, the model was to boast of United Nations approval, insert no ground troops, bomb Gadhafi, and support the insurgents. But because we far exceeded the very U.N. resolution we bragged about, we are not likely to get another such resolution for Syria. A bypassed Congress won't want to be snubbed again in favor of the U.N. And so far the Libyan air campaign has reminded us that if we do not send in ground troops and risk casualties, we have absolutely no influence on what follows.
Since we went into Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States has borrowed more than $9 trillion and is currently running serial $1 trillion deficits. We no longer pay for our wars, but instead borrow the money from the Chinese and others who calculate how to profit better than we from the ensuing chaos.
After lots of interventions, we have learned one thing about loud Arab reformers, especially those who were educated at Western universities: They damn us for supporting their dictators; they damn us for removing them; they damn us for interfering in their affairs when we help promote democracy; and they damn us as callous when we just let them be.
These cautionary tales do not necessarily mean that we should not help the Syrian dissidents, only that we must ask ourselves who exactly are these guys, how much will it cost to see them win, and when it is over will our new friends rule any more humanely and competently than the monsters that we remove?
And one final consideration: If intervening in Syria is to be a humanitarian venture, why would saving lives there be any more important than saving far more lives from far more dictators in Africa?