Let's be clear: Washington is pursuing regime change by civil war in Syria. The United States, Europe, and the Gulf states want regime change, so they are starving the regime in Damascus and feeding the opposition. They have sanctioned Syria to a fare-thee-well and are busy shoveling money and helping arms supplied by the Gulf get to the rebels. This will change the balance of power in favor of the revolution. It is also the most the United States can and should do.
President Barack Obama does not want to intervene directly in Syria for obvious reasons, and he is right to be cautious.
The United States has failed at nation-building twice before in the Middle East. The Libyan example of limited intervention by using air power alone could suck the United States into a protracted and open-ended engagement. One cannot compare Libya to Syria. The former is a relatively small, homogeneous, and wealthy society. Syria has a population four times larger, which is poor and wracked by an increasingly violent civil war across religious lines. Moreover, the chance that the United States can end the killing in Syria by airpower alone is small.
The argument that the United States could have avoided radicalization and civil war in Iraq by toppling Saddam Hussein in 1991 is unconvincing. Similar arguments are now being offered to talk Americans into jumping into Syria. Iraq was not a mature nation-state and was likely to fall apart. The fact that it imploded into civil war when the United States roto-rootered Saddam's regime should have been expected.
U.S. intervention in Syria will likely lead to something similar: civil war and radicalization. Syrians have never agreed on basic questions of identity and policy, and it is unlikely that they will decide these issues peacefully today.
Joshua Landis is the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and author of "Syria Comment," a daily newsletter on Syrian politics.
The above article was published in foreignpolicy.com on June 5th, 2012.