Choose a path, live with consequences | Rich Elfers

“We’ve tried intervention and putting down troops in Iraq. We’ve tried intervention without putting in troops in Libya. And we’ve tried no intervention at all but demanding regime change in Syria.” These are the words of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who reflected on the decisions of western leaders who tried to plot the best course regarding hotspots in the Middle East.

“We’ve tried intervention and putting down troops in Iraq. We’ve tried intervention without putting in troops in Libya. And we’ve tried no intervention at all but demanding regime change in Syria.” These are the words of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who reflected on the decisions of western leaders who tried to plot the best course regarding hotspots in the Middle East.

These decisions to act or not to act have consequences. In the three cases noted above, the results have been “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” None of the choices have worked out.

Philip Bobbit wrote a Stratfor article called “Defining Policy Failure” in which the question was raised: “Would the United States and the world be better off today if the last three presidents had followed the dictates of realism? The answer is yes.”

Our intervention in Iraq and Libya came as a result of an optimistic belief that our actions could bring about positive change. That is the opposite of realism, which weighs costs and benefits and has low expectations for positive results based upon human nature.

The following three examples examine our interventions had we reacted realistically.

Iraq: Had the U.S. not invaded Iraq in 2003 and focused instead on destroying al Qaeda, “Thousands of soldiers and civilians would still be alive; Iran would have less influence; the Islamic State would not exist.” The invasion of Iraq actually did the dirty work for the Iranians. The U.S. got rid of Saddam Hussein, Iran’s major foe, shifting the regional balance of power and opening up Iranian ambitions to create an empire that stretched to the Mediterranean.

Libya: “Had President Barack Obama listened to the realists, the United States would not have joined the coalition that removed Moammar Gadhafi from power in Libya, creating yet another failed state.” We would not be seeing the rise of both Al Qaeda and ISIS in Libya that we see today.

Ukraine: Had the U.S. not expanded NATO into Eastern Europe and encouraged Ukraine’s movement toward deeper relationships with the West, the Crimea would still be part of Ukraine and there would be no Eastern Ukraine controlled by rebels. We forced the hand of Putin and rattled the insecurities of Russia by encroaching on Russia’s buffer zone in its western “near abroad.”

Unfortunately, the policy of realism didn’t play a part in the decision-making in these countries and we don’t know what might have happened had we followed a more realistic approach. The results may have been worse.

Iraq: Had we left Saddam alone, he might have continued to build up his military and his resources and become an even greater threat to the entire region, especially Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states with their vast oil resources. The nuclear agreement with Iran might not have taken place had we not invaded Iraq.

Libya: We don’t know if Gahdafi would have survived in a peaceful Libya or whether he might have been toppled after so many years in power. A decision to not get involved in the Libyan uprising might have created an even worse outcome.

Ukraine: Had we not intervened, we don’t know whether Putin would have tried to expand Russian influence into the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as he did in Eastern Ukraine. Perhaps, because we acted, these Baltic States are free today from Russian domination.

We didn’t act in Syria, where Obama followed a realistic approach, and the country is still a mess of factions fighting loyalist followers of al-Assad, ISIS and each other. Now the Russians are deeply involved, with Turks, Kurds and Iranians also entrenched in the fray. It’s difficult to imagine how it could have turned out any worse.

The problem we have, according to Bobbit, is that our goals are wrong. Foreign affairs is not like football or a game of chess. There are rarely clear winners or losers.

Instead, we make decisions to intervene or not to intervene and then try to face the fact that there are no easy simple and final solutions. There is just the next stage in an unending series of decisions. We’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t.

That’s the way of nations. Our best path is to carefully weigh the costs and benefits rationally at the time and then live with the consequences.

 

More in Opinion

Maybe it’s time Congress takes back its power

The Constitution gives Congress the most power of the three branches of government.

Poking dead things with sticks

They don’t mince words when they call it a “crawl space,” do they?

America is denying three hard truths

There are three major hard truths that our current government has been denying with great vigor: The Mueller Russia-U.S. Presidential election connection investigation, the war in Afghanistan, and the growing national deficit.

Promote the common good by ensuring individual liberty

Citizens following their passions and dreams improve the lot for all.

The three personas of President Trump

There’s Teleprompter Trump, Raw Meat Trump and Twitter Trump.

Attitudes change on farming non-native salmon

Their warnings fell on deaf ears, but the tables have turned on the fish farming industry in Washington.

Voting yes on levies means investing in our kids’ future

We are White River graduates. Our parents are White River graduates. Our siblings are White River graduates, and our kids will one day be White River graduates.

Voting for the levy with make a major #impact for our schools

I have four children in Enumclaw public schools and they all benefit from programs that are supported by the renewal of the operational levy.

Great schools mean great communities

As former elected School Board Member, State Legislator and King County Judge, we understand the importance of educating all children.

Political soap opera won’t end until midterm elections

Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as President Trump, have all taken gambles that will shape the November midterms.

A small act of kindness can make a big impact | SoHaPP

Join SoHaPP’s book group this February to discuss “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. Don’t have the book? Check it out at the Enumclaw Library or visit The Sequel.

Vote ‘yes’ on replacement Education Programs levy

As a high school senior that has spent the entirety of my school life in Enumclaw, I know we have to take it upon ourselves to ensure the efficiency and inclusiveness of our school system.