Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee last April, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned of the potential consequences of U.S. military involvement in the Syrian conflict. It could hinder humanitarian relief operations, he said, embroil the United States in a significant, lengthy, and uncertain military commitment, and strain relationships around the world. “And finally,” he concluded, “a military intervention could have the unintended consequence of bringing the United States into a broader regional conflict or proxy war.”
Speaking after Hagel, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that in weighing options the United States had a responsibility to align her actions to the intended outcome and to articulate risk. “So before we take action, we have to be prepared for what comes next,” he said.
The use of force, especially in circumstances where ethnic and religious factors dominate, is unlikely to produce predictable outcomes . . . Unintended consequences are the rule with military interventions of this sort.
Hagel’s and Dempsey’s statements were prudent and appeared to reflect much-needed caution in the aftermath of the Iraqi disaster. Weighing costs and benefits of intervention in a faraway land where no vital U.S. interest is at...