Despite Syria’s Bloodbath, Libya-Style Intervention Remains Unlikely

Besides growing reservations about the dynamic on the ground in Syria, last week's killings at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi have raised new questions about Libya as a model for intervention

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MARCO LONGARI / AFP / Getty Images

A Syrian rebel gestures as he waits to be treated for his wounds at a hospital in the Sheikh Fares district of the northern city of Aleppo, Syria, on Sept. 18, 2012

On Wednesday, Syrian National Council head Abdulbaset Sieda invoked Libya when calling for international intervention to topple the regime of President Bashar Assad. He may not have realized the extent to which, after last week’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya weighs heavily on American minds. The chaos that prevails almost a year after the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi allowed a radical Islamist militia to operate unmolested and use a demonstration over an Islam-bashing film made in California as an opportunity to attack and kill Americans. So, despite the escalating brutality in Syria, a repeat of the Libya model is unlikely to get many takers in Washington. “No one outside Tehran and Moscow wants to bolster Bashar al-Assad, but the images of infuriated young men in Egypt, Libya and Yemen have given outsiders greater pause about Syria’s fragmented, radicalized and increasingly well-armed opposition,” noted Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group risk-management firm. “That conflict will drag on without intervention by outsiders for some time to come.”

Yet, in the Hague, another meeting of the Friends of Syria group of Western and Arab backers of the rebellion ended on Wednesday. They made plans to escalate the slow-burning sanctions that are doing little to change the regime’s course, even as they constrict Syrians’ ability to make ends meet. The group vowed to meet again before the end of 2012, but set no date. Even before last week’s tragedy in Libya, Syria’s plight was simply not near the top of the to-do list of Western leaders, partly as a result of more pressing priorities and partly because they see no good options for effecting a positive outcome.

(PHOTOS: Suffering and Resilience: The Hospitals of Aleppo)

The Syrian conflict pits a predominantly Sunni rebellion against a regime based on an Alawite security core with a measure of support from Christians and other minorities, as well as a declining share of the Sunni elite (numerous exceptions notwithstanding). From the outside, at least, it is beginning to look more like the civil war that broke out in Lebanon in the late 1970s than the rebellions of Tunisia and Egypt. Mindful of the regional consequences of picking a side in such a civil war, and of the danger of being sucked in with no exit strategy, Western powers are, if anything, growing increasingly reluctant to intervene directly.

Syria’s opposition remains deeply divided. The armed rebellion remains disorganized, with dozens of rival militias fighting under autonomous commanders. The growing influence of both Syrian and foreign jihadists among the armed formations reinforces the West’s hesitance. Indeed, even the U.S. that hoped, together with France, Turkey and Qatar, to anoint the Syrian National Council as a government-in-waiting, has been forced to distance itself from the group in light of its limited authority over revolutionaries on the ground.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose new envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has been meeting with stakeholders across the region in recent weeks, pointedly warned this week that there could be “no military solution” to the Syrian conflict. But as Ban’s last envoy, Kofi Annan, found, neither the opposition nor the regime, nor the foreign backers of either side, appears to be ready to embrace that reality. Assad hopes to blast his way out of trouble, while the rebels appear to believe that even if they lack the military capacity to topple the regime themselves, putting up enough of a fight will eventually prompt Western powers to intervene, as in Libya, to destroy the regime’s fighting capacity.

Besides growing reservations born of the situation on the ground, the Western powers no longer have the same appetites and capacities for intervention today that they may have had a decade ago, or even 18 months ago, when they began flying close air support to the Libyan rebels. NATO is struggling to extract itself from a disastrous war in Afghanistan where it has lost more than 50 soldiers just this year to attacks from the very Afghan security forces it’s in Afghanistan to support. And the West is mired in a deep and sustained economic crisis that suppresses the appetite for global military adventures. Even pledges of humanitarian support for Syria have fallen way short in the delivery, although some suspect that may be based on a reluctance to provide help that would be distributed under the aegis of the regime.

Absent outside help, the conflict appears to be setting into a strategic stalemate, with neither side capable of destroying the other, though the body count keeps rising steadily in a brutal war of attrition. The more optimistic observers in the West imagine a situation in which the regime, unable to restore control over vast swaths of territory, finds itself starved by sanctions until Assad’s power erodes to the point of collapse. Pessimists in the West see the makings of a repeat of Lebanon’s 17-year civil war, in which the country, and even the capital city, was broken down into warring confessional fiefdoms — backed by competing regional powers — that were able maintain their standoff for years on end.

(PHOTOS: A Syrian Tragedy: One Family’s Horror)

It may be precisely because of the slim prospects of any Libya-style intervention that an Egyptian initiative to establish a contact group composed of Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran is getting some traction. Turkey and the Saudis, of course, are backing the rebellion, while Iran is solidly behind the regime. Egypt’s new Islamist government hopes that the depth of involvement by those countries in the conflict is precisely why such a group has a better chance of convincing the Syrian combatants to heed a political compromise.

But the plan met an inauspicious start: the Saudis stayed home. Saudi media, like Syrian opposition groups and the Obama Administration, has challenged Iran’s involvement. Others, from former U.N. envoy Annan to Russia and the Qatari leadership, have supported Tehran’s inclusion precisely because it remains the regime’s key backer. And Turkey’s participation suggests a growing concern to resolve a conflict in which its involvement has become domestically unpopular. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy’s initiative is only just getting under way, and a second meeting is schedule for New York later this month, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Nobody is especially optimistic that it will make quick progress. But the fact that it appears to be the only game in town underscores that much of the region, and the international community, is hunkering down for a protracted battle in a context where the rules of international conflict are changing. Bremmer sees the Syria stalemate as another symptom of a retrenchment of U.S. power in a region it had dominated for the past half-century. “Foreign governments are now less willing than ever to bet on either the devil they know or the one they don’t,” he noted. “The result is that local powers will be left to sort things out. Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia — three countries with very different political systems, social structures, worldviews and visions for the region — will compete for influence.”

Lebanon’s civil war too was settled without decisive foreign military intervention. But it took the combatants 17 years of fighting to accept the mediation of Arab governments. The grim reality in Syria is that neither side appears remotely close to accepting that its war can’t be won.

MORE: Syria’s Secular and Islamist Rebels: Who Are the Saudis and the Qataris Arming?

24 comments
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Teluu
Teluu

That's exactly what the western countries want -  to fight and kill yourselves.  They're laughing now. If Syrian will not talk and solve the problem deplomatically, they don't care you are dying.

Jill Louis
Jill Louis

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Li Wright
Li Wright

Syria will probably morph into a two-state nation, with the Rebels carving out a portion of the country ala the Kurds....and there will continue to be attacks and counter attacks.  I'm against intervening, as the above article states....what's the aftermath?  Look at Libya.

If Ghadafi was in charge do you think that the rebels in the East would have attacked the embassy?  The Libyan govt in Tripoli from what I read is toothless.

Li Wright
Li Wright

Well, this tells it all:

The attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, in which at least one militia is suspected of participating, has sparked a backlash among many Libyans against the multiple armed factions that have run rampant for months in cities around the country. The militias have become more powerful than the regular security forces, and successive governments since last year’s fall of Moammar Gadhafi have been unable to rein them in.

Read more: http://world.time.com/2012/09/... 

Joe Cox
Joe Cox

Both sides have already lost in Syria.  Only the vultures are celebrating.  Intervention, like Russian aid, only adds to the collateral damage.

ksRobak
ksRobak

If not for China and Russia, It would probably go like straight from the Joseph Stalin  textbook: lets create a government abroad and legitimate it by our military might.

( Not that Russia or China is any better- they are in it for their interests- but some time ago I thought we were; and not because Assad is any good).

funnyboy911
funnyboy911

f' them, i'm tire of the mooselem on the news all my whole life.

Carl Loeber
Carl Loeber

President Obama continues to obey the commands of the Kremlin dictators as he abandons the Syrian people for 512 days of mass murder ..  if these were his daughters being murdered in Aleppo would he not risk re election and send help anyway ?    But he fails to aid the fathers and daughters in Syria ..  just plain cowardice and he knows better .. just like President Clinton turned his back on the Rwandan and Bosnian mass murders .. and Roosevelt said nothing of  the mass murder of Jews by Nazis in Ukraine in 1941 ..  it is cowardly and disgraceful ..  President Obama said it in masterful words himself last year .. The manifest cowardice of President Obama in failing the Syrian people is repugnant to his own stated principles, which he so eloquently espoused March 28, 2011,  "when people were being brutalized in Bosnia in the 1990s, it took the international community more than a year to intervene with air power to protect civilians." www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-... “To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and — more profoundly — our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are,” (Except in an election year?) “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different,” (Except in an election year)   “And as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”I have been to Aleppo and never met a kinder people ..President Clinton watched mass murder in Bosnia for a year ..  waiting for the Kremlin to give him the OK to stop it ..  finally he manned up to using force to stop the mass murder ..   Wasn't it someone named Obama who said  "Never Again" ?

Bashar Al Assad
Bashar Al Assad

While President Barack Obama sends millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to help Syrian opposition forces who have aligned themselves with Al-Qaeda to overthrow President Bashar Al-Assad, a video shows some of those very same Syrian rebels burning an American flag:

http://www.youtube.COM/watch?v=R5OtSNDz6lU

DebbieSmith1956
DebbieSmith1956

According to a Stratfor email release, courtesy of WikiLeaks, the United States, the United Kingdom and France already have plans in place for a guerrilla-style action against the current Syrian leadership as shown here:

http://viableopposition.blogsp...

The military in these three nations is concerned that Syria's massive surface-to-air defence system will complicate intervention, unlike the case with Libya.

Herbert Kaufman
Herbert Kaufman

Why should we, or anybody else interfere with Syria? We see what that has gotten us in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya. You would think that people would be grateful that you helped free them. Mark Twain once said that if you take a starving dog inside your home out of a freezing rain; feed him and make him warm, he will be grateful. This is the principle difference between people and dogs. He was right.

Big_Joe1
Big_Joe1

Yes, we do see what it has gotten us in Iraq and Afghanistan. Before, Saddam was butchering his people in Iraq. The Taliban was harboring Al Qaeda terrorists who were killing Americans. Those problems have been solved and the world is a better and a safer place. That’s true even if the people in those regions don't seem to care. Now the Syrians are being massacred by a cruel dictator. They need our help. If we do nothing, things will only get worse in Syria and elsewhere.

jeff_davis
jeff_davis

 You must get a discount on your Kool-aid.

dot2dotnews
dot2dotnews

"This is the principle difference between people and dogs." - This will not always be the case, the West will deeply regret it's decision not to help Syria. In the eyes of future educated generations in the Middle East. Although Russia and China will be most criticised for blocking attempts, ultimately we are complicit more so than them and again our morals will once again be degraded.  There will be a more moderate Islam within 5-10 years.

Raphael A. Kosmicki
Raphael A. Kosmicki

 My glass is half-empty on this Dot, but I respect you optimism and analysis. I certainly am not wishing for chaos so my hope like yours is that we see some movement in a positive direction. I agree no one group is innocent at this point especially in regards to Syria, and of course we could always do more, and do it better...

The world is not black and white as I'm sure your aware, we shall see what unfolds in the next decade.

Raphael A. Kosmicki
Raphael A. Kosmicki

"There will be a more moderate Islam within 5-10 years."

I highly doubt that....and if by some miracle your are correct, then they should be moderate enough to understand that given the circumstances and the intolerance we were dealing with at the time...we did the best we could.

Equality for women, the end of insane blasphemy laws, religious tolerance towards other minority groups in their region. Once these arrive, then they can come back and ask for help...until then, best of luck...we have our own problems.

Lloyd_Madoff
Lloyd_Madoff

"

Christian's in Syria are doing this cycle no favours" - 

What nonsense! Any religious minorities in the Islamic world would favor a secular government, even if it means a dictatorship, over an Islamic one. During Saddam's reign, you had Tariq Aziz as deputy prime minister. Assad's defense minister who, recently assassinated, was also a Christian. Now read about Christian exodus of Iraq. You'll be reading about exodus of Syria once the Islamists establish a Shri'a state. But you probably know this already and walk in their shoes. You just can't understand why they'll align themselves with a dictator instead of accepting the olive branch from Salafists when you know they only want to hold hands with infidels and sing kumbaya. 

Raphael A. Kosmicki
Raphael A. Kosmicki

My glass is half-empty on this Dot, but I respect you optimism and analysis. I certainly am not wishing for chaos so my hope like yours is that we see some movement in a positive direction. I agree no one group is innocent at this point especially in regards to Syria, and of course we could always do more, and do it better...

The world is not black and white as I'm sure your aware, we shall see what unfolds in the next decade.

dot2dotnews
dot2dotnews

Christian's in Syria are doing this cycle no favours. By aligning themselves with Bashar, the man who gave them shelter, not only are they failing they're fellow man but themselves and the faith too. Those fighting Assad may seek retribution.   

dot2dotnews
dot2dotnews

Your right, we have done so much. I still believe we could be doing more, given future circumstances. And I do believe that Islam will come to it's senses, although violent you are witnessing it right now.