Remember when I said it wasn’t humanitarian to create a power vacuum filled with armed militias from rivaling tribes that would fight each other for power in an oil-rich state? Well, that’s what we did in Libya. I’ll admit that it went better than I feared. But that’s in the past now. The future looks every bit as grim as I feared. Are they better off without Gaddafi? Some people are. Overall, though, the situation is worse. Are more people alive because we intervened? That’s highly doubtful, and grows more doubtful everyday.

This is also a lesson for Syria. The situations are not exactly analogous, but they are similar enough for Libya to serve as a warning. As we should have learned from Iraq, countries that are ruled by dictators are generally unstable by nature. The dictator isn’t so much the cause of repression as the symptom of a society that won’t live together in peace by choice. Remove the repression and people will act out against their neighbors.

This isn’t an argument that Arabs are incapable of living in pluralistic democracies. It’s more an observation about the difficulties created by the colonial powers when they created the modern Arab nation-states without due consideration for ethnic and religious and tribal rivalries. Or, perhaps, the states were designed to be unstable. Regardless, that’s all in the past now. The world has to deal with the counties that we have.

I think the Assad regime needs to step down from power in Syria, just as I thought the Gaddafi regime needed to leave power in Libya. And the international community needs to stand ready to lend assistance to the people of Syria, including arbitration and peacemaking to prevent the outbreak of a very lethal civil war. But the United States should not be involved militarily and should not have a lead role. Neighboring Arab states should take the lead role. If a western power is asked to put boots on the ground, it should be France since Syria is their creation.

The international community has humanitarian responsibilities, not just the United States. And regime change may be necessary in Syria at this time, but no one should assume that regime change will magically make things better. For the short and medium term, it will almost certainly make things worse, just as it did in Iraq and Libya.

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