But then, actions that aren't properly thought through also have consequences, for precisely the same reason. Syria isn't Libya: The circumstances and conditions that made intervention succeed in one case aren't now present in the other, and may never be. Great powers behave inconsistently, sometimes hypocritically. Their power and size have given them that luxury and latitude -- it's part of their job description.
I think we get it -- President Barack Obama's administration certainly does -- that there really are no good options on this one. Taking out the headquarters of the Fourth Armored Division or the Republican Guard barracks with missile strikes would certainly feel good, and it's clear that Syria's killers deserves that and much more.
But without sticking our heads in the sand, we ought not to lose them either with reckless ideas of how to make the Syrian tragedy ours as well through direct military intervention or indirectly supplying weapons. That the Arabs -- notably the Saudis -- see the region through the frightening filter of a Sunni-Shia war doesn't mean we should too. In fact, without infantilizing the Arabs and imposing on them the prejudice of low expectations, one can only wonder why key Arab states -- equipped with the most advanced American fighter aircraft and so concerned about their fellow Arabs in Syria -- can't or won't act more boldly, beyond providing weapons to their favored side. I think I know the answer.
As the George W. Bush administration has instructed us, getting into these regional messes is always a lot harder than getting out. And as painful as it is to watch, the wrenching reality of a brutal dictator killing his own people isn't a compelling enough reason to justify a unilateral, open-ended American military intervention to topple him.
We should stop beating ourselves up for once. Given the complexity of the problem, other pressing priorities, our interests, and the potential costs of an intervention, the administration is doing what it can. Chances are the longer the killing goes on, the more likely we be will dragged into doing more. But the notion that we should intercede quickly with some dramatic, ill-advised, poorly thought through idea of kill zones or safe havens without thinking through the consequences of what protecting those areas would entail is a prescription for disaster.
Intervening militarily now isn't about left or right, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, or even about right or wrong -- it's really about choosing between being dumb or smart. I know where I come down.