The Nation: Model Behavior? Libyan Ideas in Syria

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Activists hold pictures of Syrian president Bashar Assad and fallen Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi as they take part in a demonstration on Aug. 28, 2011 at Taksim Square in Istanbul. Dozens of Syrian dissidents based in Turkey gathered in downtown Istanbul to protest the regime of Assad.

hide captionActivists hold pictures of Syrian president Bashar Assad and fallen Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi as they take part in a demonstration on Aug. 28, 2011 at Taksim Square in Istanbul. Dozens of Syrian dissidents based in Turkey gathered in downtown Istanbul to protest the regime of Assad.

Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Robert Dreyfuss is a contributing editor for The Nation.

Moammar Gadhafi is (pretty much) gone, and right on cue there's increasing talk about applying the Libya "model" to Syria. Meanwhile, I'm more worried that eventually they'll get around to applying that "model" to Iran.

The New York Times carries a piece titled: "U.S. Tactics in Libya May Be a Model for Other Efforts." By model, of course, they mean the mobilization of lethal force, including coordinated bombing attacks and precision missile strikes, tied closely to rebel military tactics, jointly run by the United States and NATO. In it, President Obama's advisers — including Ben Rhodes, the humanitarian interventionist hawk who supported the U.S. war in Libya — suggest that the Libyan action might easily be applied elsewhere. "How much we translate to Syria remains to be seen," says one adviser, anonymously. And the Times notes:

"The very fact that the administration has joined with the same allies that it banded with on Libya to call for Mr. Assad to go and to impose penalties on his regime could take the United States one step closer to applying the Libya model toward Syria."

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Syrian rebels, stymied by Assad's heavy-handed repression, are increasingly debating calls for taking up arms and asking the United States and NATO to intervene militarily on their behalf. In an article headlined, "Calls in Syria for weapons, NATO intervention," the Post tells us:

"The success of Libya's rebels in toppling their dictator is prompting calls within the Syrian opposition for armed rebellion and NATO intervention after nearly six months of overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations that have failed to dislodge President Bashar Assad.... Protesters in recent days have carried banners calling for a no-fly zone over Syria akin to the one that facilitated the Libyan revolt."

The Post accompanies that article with a scary piece warning that Assad has "weapons of mass destruction," i.e., chemical weapons.

President Obama is not President Bush, and I don't think that for a moment that Obama is seeking excuses to bomb and invade Middle East countries, as Bush was. Not do I think that Obama, preoccupied with the dismal economic mess that threatens to elect Rick Perry, wants to make foreign policy adventures his chief concern, although the White House might welcome a war or two to take Americans' minds off unemployment and stagnation.

But there's a kind of inexorability to these things. Just as Obama intervened reluctantly in Libya, only after he came under intense pressure from neoconservatives and humanitarian interventionists, it's all too possible that an intensified crisis in Syria, and even Iran, could lead Obama to seek NATO support for things like no-fly zones, blockades of shipping, and even air strikes.

What if, say, one of Syria's major cities, say, Hama, was taken over by rebels, à la Benghazi? Or what if one of Iran's cities, say, Shiraz, was seized by anti-regime forces there? It's fair to say that Syria and Iran are far more difficult cases than Libya, a empty desert nation whose civil conflict was likely not to spread. By contrast, war in Syria could affect Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan, and war in Iran could have incalculable consequences from Pakistan and Afghanistan to the Persian Gulf. Still, you can already imagine the drumbeat from neocons and liberal interventionists that the United States cannot allow Syrians, or Iranians, to be massacred.

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