President Reagan learned a foreign policy lesson that presidents following him have yet to learn: Do not get involved in other countries’ civil wars. Cato Institute’s Doug Bandow explains how civil wars are particularly resistant to outside solutions. Mr. Bandow maintains that, far from advancing U.S. security, getting involved in Syria would ensnare Americans in a completely unnecessary conflict.
The bitter civil war obviously is a human tragedy. However, the conflict is beyond repair by Washington.
Ronald Reagan’s greatest mistake was getting involved in the Lebanese civil war, which at one point contained 25 warring factions. The U.S. invasion of Iraq sparked civil conflict which killed tens or even hundreds of thousands of civilians. Allied intervention in Libya prolonged that brutal low-tech battle and left terrorism and instability in its wake. Egypt, where America has successively backed dictatorship, democracy, and military rule, seems headed towards growing violent conflict, with the possibility of terrorism and even civil war.
Civil wars are particularly resistant to outside solution. The antagonisms run deep and there often are multiple parties, none of whom may want peace. In Syria the radical Islamists appear to be gaining influence. It is not obvious how the same government officials who have made such a mess of so many other countries would fix Syria.