Now that NATO is closing up shop in Libya, will it turn to Syria?
Right now, the answer is no. But if the fragmented Syrian opposition—bolstered by Turkey, a member of NATO, which is turning increasingly against Syrian President Assad—manages to set up a Benghazi-like enclave either inside Syria or across the border in Turkey, anything goes.
To be sure, there are lots of differences between Libya and Syria. In Libya, an armed opposition backed by wholesale defections from the armed forces, turned a rebellion into a civil war, but so far in Syria the armed forces have mostly stayed loyal to Assad. Libya, a desert with oil wells, was a much easier target than complex, urban Syria, which occupies a vastly more strategic piece of real estate. And, though Russia, China and the Arab League abandoned Muammar Qaddafi, so far it seems unlikely that they’ll do so in Syria.
That hasn’t stopped hawks from suggesting that it’s time to intervene in Syria, too. And some, though not all, of the Syrian opposition is clamoring for military help from the United States and NATO.
Jeffrey White of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank founded by AIPAC, last week published a piece titled “Implications of Military Intervention in Syria.” In it, he says:
The debate regarding military intervention in Syria will likely grow in the coming weeks given the regime’s continued violence, the end of NATO intervention in Libya, and the rise of armed opposition fueled by defections from regime forces. … Any military action in Syria should have clear, realistic objectives. A minimal goal would be to establish some measure of protection for the Syrian population, which is currently at high risk. Another goal could be to give the opposition the ability to militarily engage regime forces.
There are various potential courses of action for achieving whatever goals are chosen. To protect the population, for example, intervening parties could establish “safe areas” on Syria’s borders.… In addition, some combination of “no-fly,” “no drive,” and “no shoot” zones could be imposed on Syria to constrain regime military operations.
And John McCain, speaking at an AIPAC meeting in Arizona, stopped just short of calling for military action: