Just because the United States has the military might to address perceived problems in Syria, Egypt, or other parts of “the Muslim world,” historian Paul Johnson argues in the latest Forbes magazine against that course of action.

It looks so simple, especially for the U.S., which has a hyperactive media, noisy democratic institutions that clamor for “human rights” and a long tradition of intervention for humanitarian reasons. The Third World, especially the Muslim world, abounds in messy government crises in which mobs try to take control, troops open fire and people get killed. Congress and the media instantly call for a U.S. response, and the President finds his finger hovering over the action button.

It’s all too easy and satisfying to press that button. Troop carriers hurtle through the air, and presidential orders are obeyed instantly, producing impressive results. But after overthrowing a “wicked” Third World government, then what?

That is when the real problems begin. Small at first, they grow progressively larger–and are unending. Does anyone honestly believe that American intervention has solved the Iraq crisis? Or the Afghanistan crisis? Or that it ever will? …

… The fact is, throughout the Middle East we are operating from a position of ignorance. We cannot, with any precision, identify the truly democratic forces or even be certain they exist. Nor do we know if any of them are immune to terrorist penetration. We are at a loss as to which personalities or organizations we ought to back–or, in deed, if any are reliable. Hence, our best policy is to stay our hand–what Benja min Disraeli called “masterly inactivity.”