Violently intervening in the affairs of other countries has brought the United States much grief over the last century. We are hardly the only ones who do it. The club of interventionist nations has a shifting membership. During the current round of Middle East conflict, two new countries have joined: Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Both have succumbed to the imperial temptation. Both are paying a high price. They are learning a lesson that Americans struggle to accept: Interventions have unexpected consequences and often end up weakening rather than strengthening the countries that carry them out.
Turkey’s long intervention in Syria has failed to bring about its intended result, the fall of President Bashar Assad. Instead it has intensified the Syrian conflict, fed a regional refugee crisis, set off terrorist backlash, and deeply strained relations between Turkey and its NATO allies. As this blunder has unfolded, Saudi Arabia has also been waging war outside its territory. Its bombing of neighboring Yemen was supposed to be a way of asserting regional hegemony, but it has aroused indignant condemnation. The bombing campaign has placed Saudi Arabia under new scrutiny, including more intense focus on its role in promoting global terror, which the Saudi royal family has managed to keep half-hidden for years.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia intervened in foreign conflicts hoping to establish themselves as regional kingmakers. Both miscalculated. They overestimated their ability to secure quick victory and failed to weigh the strategic costs of failure or stalemate. If the Turks and Saudis had studied the history of American interventions, they would have been more prudent. We know the sorrows of empire. From Iran to Cuba to Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq, the legacy of our interventions continues to haunt us. Ambitious powers, however, continue to ignore the stark lesson that American history teaches. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are the latest to repeat our mistake. It is the same mistake that has undermined many nations and empires. They overestimated their ability to shape events in foreign lands. Now they are paying for their delusional overreach.