Last week. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the world on the crisis in Syria, and basically said it is up to Syrians to solve their problem with the Assad regime.
It wasn't that she was striking a neutral, non-interventionist pose, but that she was being pragmatic and reassuringly blunt.
She said the brutality being exercised for more than a year against Syrians by their government and its military cannot go on indefinitely and that "there will be increasingly capable opposition forces . . . that will find the means to defend themselves as well as begin offensive measures . . . I have absolutely no doubt there will be a breaking point."
She was speaking to representatives of Arab and Western countries who are to attend a "Friends of Syria" gathering of some 70 nations in Tunis, with the goal of trying into persuade the Assad regime to stop killing its own people.
What's interesting in this U.S. approach, is that it's registering disapproval and opposition -- but no military ultimatums or threats.
Pity the U.S. doesn't try this approach more often.
Once military action is involved, the dynamics of any crisis change, and consequences are invariably unpredictable. And usually disappointing.
Of course, Russia and China supporting Syria is an inhibiting factor. Well, if not exactly supporting, at least warning outsiders not to interfere.
When U.S. or Western countries get involved in a rebellion, they inevitably must assume some responsibility for the outcome. By taking a hands-off approach to the Syrian rebellion, there is little baggage or responsibility of Western countries.
Not like Libya, where the rebellion caught Western countries by surprise. While we didn't send ground troops, we did wage an air war against the Gadhafi regime that was like shooting fish in a barrel. Western allies have been congratulating themselves ever since.
As a consequence we now have some responsibility for the regime that replaces Gadhafi, and fervently hope it is more democratic than it looks at present. The same goes for the Egyptian rebellion that ousted Mubarak who, until he fell, was America's ally and then forgotten.
Western countries intruded militarily in the affairs of Kosovo and Serbia, on grounds that we were preventing genocide -- which turned out to be a myth. No mass graves, and casualties and atrocities were roughly equal by both sides.
A consequence is that Bosnia and Kosovo are now havens for Islamic extremists.
One civil war that succeeded without Western involvement was Eritrea's 30-year war against Ethiopia's occupation. Ethiopia was at first supported by U.S. and then by Soviet Union. No country supported or gave military aid to Eritrea.
I was there during the last battles, when Eritrean fighters were capturing Soviet equipment used by the Ethiopians, and turning captured tanks and guns against their enemy. They won independence, thanks only to themselves.
Today Eritrea is judged one of the world's poorest nations, at the bottom of the freedom scale. Yet Eritreans overseas loyally send money to relatives.
America's war in Vietnam was a misjudgment that cost 50,000 American lives and solved nothing. The North won, and life goes on. By invading Iraq, the country is now on a razor's edge. If only the American had eliminated Saddam Hussein, as they did Osama bin Laden, that whole area might be different today.
The moral being -- don't start a war unless you're going to win quickly, as President Reagan did in Grenada and against Noriega in Panama. One hopes Hillary is right about Syria.