In a Washington Post column published yesterday, "What the Iraq war taught me about Syria," Jackson Diehl takes on the criticism of hawks like himself who have been pilloried for supporting intervention in Syria even though the U.S. intervention in Iraq, which they supported, turned out so poorly. But, he writes, Syria is not Iraq, so President Obama and others are being too cautious if they assume the United States cannot help the rebels without stepping into a 10-year-long quagmire. "The problem here," he writes, "is not that advocates of the Iraq invasion have failed to learn its lessons. It is that opponents of that war, starting with Obama, have learned the wrong ones."
It would be a plausible argument if Diehl had not clearly missed many of the most basic lessons of the Iraq War. For example, he writes that "in the absence of U.S. intervention, Syria is looking like it could produce a much worse humanitarian disaster and a far more serious strategic reverse for the United States." It is certainly true that Syria is a humanitarian disaster on a regional scale, and that the lack of a clear strategy by the United States for the past two years has limited our ability to shape the nature and trajectory of the conflict today. But the phrase "in the absence of U.S. intervention" suggests a degree of American agency that Iraq showed we simply don't possess.