David Ignatius writes that the U.S. is slowly duplicating the strategy it deployed against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s again in Syria today:
What does this historical comparison suggest? On the positive side, the Afghan mujahedeen won their war and eventually ousted the Russian-backed government. (Yes, that's another eerie parallel.) On the negative, this CIA-backed victory opened the way for decades of chaos and jihadist extremism that are still menacing Afghanistan, its neighbors and even the United States.
Ignatius goes on to list some "best practices" so the U.S. can aid Syria's civil war but lower the chances it will incur blow back:
The U.S. should work hard (if secretly) to help the more sensible elements of the Syrian opposition, and limit the influence of extremists. This policy was ignored in Afghanistan, where the U.S. allowed Pakistan (aided by Saudi money) to back the fighters it liked -- who turned out to be among the most extreme and dangerous. America is still trying to undo the mess caused by that exercise in realpolitik. Don't do it again.
Finally, the U.S. should subtly play the tribal card, which may be as crucial in Syria as it was in Iraq. The leaders of many Syrian tribes have sworn a blood oath of vengeance against Assad and their power is one reason why the engine of this insurgency is rural, conservative and Sunni. But Iraq showed that the tribal leaders can be the best bulwark against the growth of al-Qaeda and other extremists.
What's scary about Syria is that al-Qaeda is already fighting there, in the hundreds. Cells in Mosul and other parts of northern Iraq are sending fighters across the Syria-Iraq border, with the jihadist pipeline now operating in reverse.
Interesting that none of the lessons Ignatius reaches for include "leave well enough alone." Instead, it's a sophisticated version of "we'll just meddle better this time."