Friday, May 16, 2014

How About Some Humility?

In today's CIC post, I argue that we have tried pretty much everything in the Mideast from nothing (Syria) to bombing (Libya) to massive intervention (Afghanistan, Iraq), and have not been very successful.  Perhaps we have learned some humility about what outsiders can do?  Well, many of us, not John McCain.

One can argue that each effort was imperfectly deployed, raising all kinds of counterfactuals that suggest we could have done better: we could have surged in Afghanistan in 2002 and not 2010; we could have had a plan for Iraq after the regime fell in 2003; we could have done more in Libya besides drop bombs; we could do more in Syria right now, and so on.

Indeed, if, if, if.  Reminds of the partition debate, which would be swell if done correctly.  In that case, the imperfections were largely baked in--that it was inherent in the enterprise to do it badly.  Maybe not so much for Mideast interventions these days, but I cannot gain much confidence that we, the outsiders, have gotten any better or could get any better in the political/governance side of things.  That is:
  • picking the right guy or being brave enough not to pick the right guy but let the domestic processes shake out without our thumb heavily on the scale (although that might not be much better); 
  • figuring out how to dump some money into a country for development without distorting everything and accelerating corruption;
  • having the various outsiders work by the same or similar rules (we suggest this is unlikely);
  • making sure the various government agencies within each country play well together (not likely, given what I learned for the next book).
  • and on and on.
I am not saying that we (US/Canada, NATO, whomever) should never intervene, but that force has limited utility.  It is good for breaking stuff, not putting governments together.  This seems basic but John McCain and some other folks keep forgetting.

Anyhow, with great power comes great responsibility but not necessarily great effectiveness/efficacy.  And that is something we should keep in mind.

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