ASPEN, Colo.—If you were to imagine trying to array the different justifications for the U.S. war in Iraq along a spectrum of idealism to realism, there would be two at the far-idealistic end, whose credibility ended up more damaged than any others' by the war and America's broader involvement in the Middle East post-9/11: humanitarian intervention and the advancement of democracy.
But according to Anne-Marie Slaughter, humanitarian intervention, particularly in Syria, remains at least as tough-minded a proposition as it is a high-minded one. "If you look at Syria," Slaughter said, speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival this week, "more than half the population has been displaced. ... The number of Syrian refugees in Jordan, as a percentage of the population, is the equivalent of all of Canada moving to the United States. Let's just think what that would mean for our school system, our health system, our infrastructure. ... In a situation where up to a third of the population, or half the population, is destabilized—that is a security concern, as it was in Europe [at the time of the Thirty Years War]."
Marwan Muasher, on the stage with Slaughter, expressed reservations about this framework—or at least about the role he sees it taking on as the U.S. government scopes its foreign policy under circumstances of increasingly acute regional crisis. "I'll give you two kinds of intervention," Muasher said. "You can try to intervene militarily. You've done this before, in Iraq, with 500,000 troops. Did it bring democracy to Iraq today? Obviously not. But you can intervene through other means. For example, encourage the Iraqis to have a political process that is inclusionist. ... That's the kind of intervention that's needed in the region, not the kind of intervention that sends troops ... and sees everything through a narrow security lens to the exclusion of all the other basic problems that are out there in the Middle East."