06/19/2013 05:35 pm ET Updated Aug 19, 2013

Syria Oh Syria

First, let's cleanse Washington of all those interventionists who can't wait until we get our hands bitten in Syria in another futile pursuit of nation-building. They linger in the hallways of Congress or nearby the White House, eager to advise each incoming president unfamiliar with foreign policy to their theoretical perception of reality.

What the devil is the Center for New American Security quoted recently in the New York Times? Who underwrites it? Or is it just another name for some previous hawk-flavored group, containing an endless number of "experts" who want America to walk softly but carry or at least use a big stick?

Enough voices are being heard these past days, thank goodness, that are questioning President Obama's decision to provide "soft" support for the Syrian rebels. For one thing, we're not being told who the rebels' leaders are, whether the best brains in Washington have spoken to them and can be assured they will be people we may yet learn belatedly to our surprise that they are the wrong guys to be on our side.

As an experienced veteran of having covered a dozen to 14 wars, in particular the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, I have witnessed enough tragedies, meaning the loss of American lives in a dogged determination to foster "nation-building" as we know it in the developing world, but especially in the Middle East. In 1956, I was told by the American Embassy in Kabul that our goal when we committed $50 million a year to the then-kingdom was nation-building. That year, I recall attending a background briefing for four of us journalists in Saigon with John Foster Dulles, our rigidly anti-Communist Secretary of State, who had just come from Manila where the organization of SEATO, the Southeast Asia Treaty, was formulated. When he ticked off the names of the member states and included Pakistan, I interrupted him and said, "but Pakistan is not in Southeast Asia." He kissed off my question, as if to say, it was a minor consideration.

Minor or not, Pakistan became America's adopted orphan because Dulles and the right were raging antagonists who viewed India with scorn because of Prime Minister Nehru's flirtation with the Soviet Union, his policy of neutralism and willingness to take Moscow's arms and cash to build a monster dam in India. So we adopted Pakistan by pouring umpteen millions of dollars in aid there that has never stopped. We followed our billions and finally trillions that help to create a powerful military establishment that came to dominate, or at least influence the country's politics We sent ambassadors to Karachi who had prior contacts with the CIA in Virginia and new some members of the intelligence community. We got access to Pakistan's air bases, notably Peshwar from where Francis Gary Powers overflew the Soviet Union in his U-2 before Khrushchev had him shot down, embarrassing President Eisenhower.

So we have learned, by experience, how little influence we've had in controlling Pakistan's nuclear ambitions or threats or even influencing its generals. But the money keeps flowing in; U.S. taxpayer money, that is.

Now, with the horror of Vietnam behind us, we are still blithely toying with the idea of stepping into another quagmire, "helping" Syria, a seriously divided country and stepchild of French colonialism; beset by religious and sectarian differences. Is this a place where we can legitimately hope to foster democracy, or even constructively construct a rational nation that is prepared to put aside its differences? The answer most likely is hell no.