Stay Out of Syria

Though this blog is primarily about the economy and economic policy, I feel strongly enough about the unwisdom of getting involved in the civil war in Syria that I address it now.

My objection to having our government intervene militarily in Syria in any way rests largely on the same grounds as my objection to having our government intervene in healthcare, or schooling, or banking, or money, or mail delivery, or agriculture, or energy, or any other area of productive endeavor in the economy.

That is, the government officials don’t know enough to make a good job of it. These are complex, dynamic systems that no person or group can comprehend well enough to intervene in so as to accomplish what they intend without causing innumerable unintended and unwanted consequences.

Surely what is going on in Syria is dreadful, lamentable, horrible. That doesn’t mean the U.S. military, under the direction of politicians in Washington, D.C. who are largely ignorant of the region’s history, culture, and politics can make it less dreadful, lamentable, horrible. “We have to do something,” people think. No. If that something is likely to make it all worse, then we don’t have to do something; we should do nothing, as frustrating as that might be.

I’m sure I’m not alone in having a sense of déjà vu here. In February of 2003 The Future of Freedom Foundation published my essay, “War With Iraq is Dangerous Folly.” In it I wrote

Why is attacking Iraq a dangerous folly? Because American politicians don’t have the control they imagine. They can start a war, but they can’t control how it plays out or ends. The current American administration might be a well-intentioned group that wants to fix a bad situation, and it has the military strength to try. But their good intentions will not determine outcomes. American political and military adventuring overseas rarely achieve good results for the nation. Any given interference in another nation’s affairs is likely to backfire, including this proposed war with Iraq. Why? Because human affairs are too complex to direct. It is not in any politician’s — or even any statesman’s — power to build nations, to install good regimes (that can last), to clear out the bad guys, and to leave nice guys in their place. Picture our occupying Iraq for a decade or so while our politicians try to establish a viable regime they choose, amid the swirl of local politics. The similarities to Vietnam should worry us sick.

Ten years later, one country to the west, the reasoning still holds.

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