Part of the argument in favor of action in Syria- I had considered this as well- was the fact that our last limited operation, the action in Libya to take out Moammar Gadhafi, had been, in fact, short and successful.
And in that limited scope, it was. Gadhafi was killed, national flags were swapped, cheers, celebratory gunfire, the lot. And then we left, as was our aim. Job done, right?
Well, it turns out it depends what we mean by 'job'. If the job was just to get out Gadhafi, then yes. Job done. But a key component of regime change is that whoever the replacement is will be better. This is not to say it was the wrong move to see off Gadhafi, but it is very much worth noting that there wasn't a clear singular challenger to Gadhafi's rule; no obvious candidate to assume power. Which means once he died, a power vacuum was created. And when power vacuums are created, chaos reigns while multiple parties vie to fill it.
I had forgotten about that small detail. Quite a lot of us forgot about that small detail. Patrick Cockburn of the Independent remembered that small detail. Going back and taking another look reveals a country that has in recent months seen oil production drop to just over 10% of what it could be doing because of strikes and mutinies over lack of pay and which has increasingly fallen under the control of local militias. Oil that is being pumped is hitting the black market, and some has actually had to be imported- to Libya, mind you- just to keep the lights on. The prison system is not immune from mutiny either; that's never good. Replacement Prime Minister Ali Zeidan's government can be described as "shaky".
The aim was never to decide Libya's next direction, and it isn't to decide Syria's next direction either. But it's going to depend largely on who, if anyone, is poised to take over should Bashar al-Assad be toppled. Unfortunately, there isn't a chief candidate there either, only disparate groups of rebels, in fact more disparate than Libya's. News articles disagree on who the leader is. Is it Ahmed al-Jarba? Is it Salim Idris? Is it Haytham al-Manna? Is it Abu Adnan? Is it anyone at all?
So assume that the US acts in Syria. Assume that the operation is successful. Assume that Assad is removed from power. Great. Awesome.
Then what? And do we consider that to be a significant concern to us?