When revolutions don’t start from the bottom-up, they’re doomed to fail.
If the people of a nation in turmoil aren’t sufficiently motivated and capable of pulling off their very own revolution without the help of outside forces, then after the so-called revolution is over, the people will not be able to govern themselves, and the situation will be far worse than before.
For example, look at the American Revolution.
Before the American Revolution even began, we already had meta-governments in place in every state and city in the union. There were town councils, city councils, and state governments. The infrastructure needed to succeed post-revolution was already in place before it.
It was thanks to this pre-existing infrastructure that, after the revolution concluded, we were able to make America work and thrive as an independent nation.
This is not a popular perspective among warhawks in Washington. And many Americans believe, that if a dictator’s actions are awful enough, than there is a duty for outside nations, like the United States, to step in.
But, outside nations shouldn’t intervene in revolutions or civil wars because, if popular opinion is strong enough that the dictator, king, or government needs to go, then not only will the people rise up and throw that dictator out of power, but people within the dictator’s own government will turn against him as well.
Look at the fall of the Shah in Iran.
The people of Iran were fed up with the Shah’s policies of privatizing the nation’s oil revenue for the benefit of American companies and his own family, his disregard for Islamic tradition, his failed domestic policies that ignored the poor, and his perceived extravagance and elitism.
Eventually, the anger of the people boiled over with mass protests and rioting, and, in 1978, the Shah abdicated his throne and fled from Iran.
Similarly, it was the people of Chile, along with a few words from Pope John Paul II, who ultimately ended military rule in that country, by throwing Augusto Pinochet out of power with a constitutional referendum.
The alternative to letting a revolution or one side in a civil war succeed or fail is called “nation building,” and it requires generations’ worth of money, commitment and military power.
Nation-building was the approach that the United States took with The Philippines and Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War. To this day, we still have soldiers and military bases in both countries. The Spanish-American War began in 1898, and there’s still an active military insurgency against us in The Philippines.
When we look at conflicts like those in Syria and Libya, and even Iraq and Afghanistan, many Americans believe that if we simply help out the suppressed people, or the rebels, in their fight against the ruling dictatorships, then we will help in magically producing a functioning democratic government.
This belief is about as reality-grounded as is belief in the Tooth Fairy.
The bottom-line is that revolutions and civil wars only come about in one of two ways. Either they start organically, from the inside-out/bottom-up, where people are deeply invested and where change is long-lasting, or they start from the outside-in/top-down, require endless amounts of investments from outside forces, and take generations to achieve positive changes, if any.
Which is why it’s very, very dangerous to get involved in Syria.
If Syria had the infrastructure in place to successfully support a revolution, and if its people were deeply invested and ready for a revolution, than there wouldn’t be any need for the United States or other Western nations to get involved in the first place.
In his farewell address to the American people, George Washington warned us about the dangers of foreign entanglements. He said of that day, “It is out true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world,” and told future generations that, “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is … to have with them as little political connection as possible.”
While George W. Bush ignored George Washington’s advice and blundered into Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s not too late to listen to him and avoid getting deeper into the middle of a very complicated and dangerous situation in Syria.