We help one side in a conflict out of self-interest. For the most part that self-interest is to make sure that there is access to oil at market prices. Without the oil, I don't think anyone would be so concerned about what happens in the Middle East, do you?
To the extent we care about Israel's continued existence, yes.
We along with the British, arrange for the Shah to take power in Iran. That was in the 50s. 25 years later Carter abandons him and we get the despotic islamic theocracy that resulted in numerous energy shortages and now Iran with nuclear weapons or close to it.
Was it a good thing for us to see the Shah toppled?
No, but that doesn't really bear on Syria. On the facts as you state them, Carter made a decision that proved bad. But any decision can do that....
So what should our policy be? Should we support the secular dictators to keep the peace and maintain access to oil or should we arrange to have them toppled to risk access to oil and see these countries go to chaos with the islamic extremists taking over?
Look at Afghanistan. We help the Mujahadeen harass the Russians, then we leave it in a power vacuum that ends up with people we help (bin Laden, etc) attacking us.
In Libya, we aid the rebels. In the process we lied to the UN and ticked off the Russians and CHinese and it is possible that some of the weapons used in Benghazi came from US!
In Syria we are helping the rebels, who,if they were in Iraq, would be arrested if not killed in battle. And what have they been arrested for? Making chemical weapons - Sarin and mustard gas.
I'd rather have the secular dictators in place seeing as though the alternatives have never worked out at all. Only downside.
I think the lessons in these examples are mainly that proxy wars tend to screw everything up.
As for dictators, the trouble is that things can go bad for us just as easily without intervention. What did we do in Egypt except give a couple speeches and continue to back the army, which is the secular force?
Nothing. And what happened? Well, first the civilians throw out Mubarak and elect Morsi, and now the army has thrown out Morsi.
There are no good answers here, but I don't know if I can accept the notion that we and our allies should sit on our hands and make no efforts when a people rise against a dictator.
I also don't know if I can accept a position where we simply do not intervene on humanitarian grounds. After all, if Germany hadn't declared war on the U.S., such a position would suggest doing nothing to prevent the holocaust (and a likely German victory, after which Germany would very likely have been capable of exterminating other races of people).
We should be very careful about who we are helping, that I can certainly agree with. Bear in mind this country likely wouldn't exist without French help against the British, and that help included supplies.
Given the extremely limited nature of Obama's involvements in the Middle East, I can't really see how we can say anything was made anything worse for certain.