Someday the wars in these countries will end. It is helpful to remember that there was a quite similar, complicated, bloody civil war that took place in the region a generation ago, one that eventually settled into a more-or-less lasting peace. The conflict in Lebanon killed a much larger percentage of the country’s population than any of the active wars today are likely to do, and dragged on for nearly fifteen years. Attempts at peacekeeping by outsiders, including the United States, were ineffective and costly. The Lebanese had to sort out their issues themselves. And eventually they did.
The real lesson from the recent history of Libya is a sad one, but unmistakable: The United States vastly overestimates the amount of control it can exert over the troubled, deeply divided societies of the Middle East. It is comforting to think that Washington can stop the region’s heartbreaking violence and build coherent states in its wake, to exert some control over the final outcomes, but it is an illusion. We can and should help those who flee the violence, but only the perpetrators it can bring it to a halt.
Christopher J. Fettweis is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Tulane University.
Image: Eurofighter Typhoon. Wikimedia Commons/Vladimir Korolkov/Public domain