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Posted by on Oct 31, 2011 in International | 11 comments

Why Syria Is Different Than Libya. Or Is It?

Protesters shout anti-government slogans after Friday prayers at a Damascus mosque.

What is happening in Syria would appear to be pretty much a carbon copy of the bloody events in Libya earlier this year: A brutal dictator cracks down on pro-democracy demonstrations and sics his army and their tanks on protesters. A NATO-imposed no-fly zone over Libya turned the tide there and eventual forced the ouster of Colonel Moammar el-Qaddafi, who in turn was fatally savaged by rebel liberators.

Yet despite the similarities, NATO has all but ruled out the possibility of establishing a no-fly zone in Syria after, or perhaps merely coincidental with, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warning that any western intervention would cause an “earthquake” that would “burn the whole region” and turn his country into “another Afghanistan.”

Quaddafi said the same thing early and often, so why is NATO so diffident given the success of its Libya mission? The easy answer is the Libya has lots of something Syria does not — oil. But it is not that simple.

NATO officials say the Libya “template” is unlikely to work in Syria and such a mission lacks both international consensus and wider regional support, which was more or less the case when the Libyan no-fly zone was established in March.

The UN Security Council would need to approve any Syrian operation and that step is unlikely given the opposition of China and Russia, which has historic ties with Syria.

“We would need a clear mandate from the international community, as well as support from the Arab League and Syria’s neighbors,” a NATO official told The Guardian, adding that so far “no-one had asked” for NATO’s help.

“Syria is different in every respect from Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen. The history is different. The politics is different. Syria is the hub in this region,” the official said. “It is the fault line, and if you play with the ground you will cause an earthquake . . . . Do you want so see another Afghanistan?”

Well, no.

Yet Assad has been every bit as bloodthirsty as Quaddafi. Some 3,000 protesters have been killed since the uprising began in mid-March. Assad has admitted that “many mistakes” have been made by his army, but says his regime is now battling “terrorists,” which the protesters on the whole are most certainly not.

Although the Arab Spring awakenings in the Middle East and North Africa have been fairly similar, the progression of these mini-revolutions have varied as have the outcomes. This would seem to argue against a one-size-fits-all no-fly approach to hard heads like Assad and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and yet the slaughter continues in both countries.

Photograph by Muzaffar Salman/The Associated Press

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