We have learned, belatedly and the hard way, that regime change malfunctioned as a model when applied to 21st-century adversaries like al Qaeda. That was more intuitive than we cared to admit. Killing Osama bin Laden was hardly a masterstroke. It was, justifiably enough, a matter of avenging our civilian dead and gratifying our sense of valor. But the case for regime change had begun to unravel before bin Laden was killed, and afterward it began to disintegrate. The idea that the problem of Iraq could be solved by regime change nourished all manner of dangerous delusions. The determination that regime change had become necessary in Libya set in motion a black mass of anarchy that has no end in sight, providing welcome news only for ISIS itself.
Regime change in Egypt has been a disgrace; regime change in Cuba, a pipe dream. State Department officials are now in headlong retreat from the very idea of regime change in North Korea, banking on the kind of calculated “opening” adopted by the junta in Myanmar. Perhaps most humiliating of all, however, has been the carnival of incompetence and half-measures surrounding our foolish attempt at regime change in Syria. Disgrace crushed our hopes to use liberated Benghazi as a lily pad for arming the Syrian rebels. But something worse than disgrace has accompanied the administration’s convoluted and incomprehensible intention to replace Bashar al-Assad with something or someone better.