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How Libya killed hundreds in Syria

Posted by Don McLenaghen on February 9, 2012

An UN Security Council proposal to invoke its charter for “responsibility to protect” was vetoed by China and Russia last week. Now many people have questioned why we, the West, intervened into Libya to ‘protect’ those civilians and yet we stand by and watch a government slaughter its own people in Syria?

Well, you can blame Libya or at least how we did the job there. One of the concerns by international governments (like Russia and China) was that the UN mission was not actually to protect the people instead, an opportunity to get rid of an internationally unpopular dictator…i.e. regime change was the real point.

As it turned out, they were right.

The role of NATO (the instrument of UN protection) seemed not to limit or prevent Gaddafi’s ability to punish his people but to act as an unofficial air force for the ‘liberation’ rebels. Now, it could be argued that getting rid of Gaddafi was a good; however the poor choice of mechanism for regime change has come home to roost and the people of Syria are paying the price.

Assad, Syria’s ruler, unlike Gaddafi has some strong supporters in the international community; Iran, Russia and China being the most notable and important. Even though I think (grant me a moment of sentimentality) that as much as the political leadership of these countries desperately want to see the end of the deaths in Syria; they do not want to get rid of Assad who is too important to their geo-political machinations. They fear, and Libya seems to have proven, that UN intervention will not be limited to protecting civilians but will be used as a means of regime change.

Sadly, they are probably right.

Of course some may argue that if NATO actually did the work in Libya and WE, the West, control NATO, why not have NATO unilaterally intervene?

Fears of western imperialism not new

First, intervene could risk war with Russia and China (okay not likely but tension would rise…never a good thing). Beyond that, without UN cover, it is likely…no for certain, that Arabs would will not see this as humanitarian help especially by Syrian allies Turkey, embattled Egypt and Iran (also paranoid with reason).

I have used the term ‘the West’ a few times because to those in the region this term means something…they do not see democracy or  philanthropy but they know two wars in Iraq, one still going in Afghanistan, drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan, Israeli settlements in Palestine, Gaza blockade, Libyan collateral damage, the constant threats to Iran, the habitual silence over Israel…they do not automatically assume our acts/intentions are noble but are instead another example of western (American/Israeli?) imperialism – right or wrong, this is how they feel.

These Arab nations could make operations in Syria difficult at best and at worst they may ‘defend Syria’s rightful government’ with military force. Because this operation would lack the legitimacy of an UN Security Council resolution, they would be right…technically (and really?) it would be an act of war for NATO to intervene militarily.

Better the devil I know

Secondly, Syria has a military. One of the facts that led to the defeat of Gaddafi was his relatively small aged and ineffective military. Libya had been on the arms embargo list for decades; Syria has large forces, well organized and equipped with modern and deadly weaponry. Libya’s forces were largely used to suppress its own people; Syrian forces are in constant preparation for a war with Israel…a major threat to Syria (let us not forget these countries are still technically at war and Israel bombed Syria in 2007). Syria’s military is, at least conventionally, able to deal with a major Israel threat; NATO would be minor compared to what Israel could do.

Arab spring or swapping jockeys

The only hope the people of Syria have is the Arab League of Nations…their local UN. The Arab league has sent in observes to judge the level of violence and quickly left because the levels of savagery they saw shocked even ‘professionals’ like them. They have condemned Syria and attempted to isolate it politically. However, the Arab League is composed of 21 Arab nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia; these nations have had difficulty presenting a unified front in the past and there are few military that could take on Syria.

Of course another major issue is that after the “Arab Spring” most of the oppressive nations, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, do not want to promote ‘liberation movements’. The Saudi’s sent troops into Bahrain to stop uprisings there and the Egyptian military is trying to maintain its control over Egypt after the loss of Mubarak. Economically, Russia and China (and India, Brazil, South Africa) see Syria as valuable for economic, political or geo-strategic imperatives.

Short vs. Long term

I came out strongly in favor of the intervention in Libya to “protect innocent civilians” and at the time I mentioned my fears that western powers would use this noble (and necessary) principle for a more opportunistic agenda (regime change). Well, my trust in humanity (as principled and tentative as it was) was misplaced. That said, there is a lesson to be learnt.

One of the goals of Radio Free Thinker, is to expand the frontier of skeptical thinking; taking the tools of critical thinking and the scientific method beyond their traditional limited spheres of science. We have a learning opportunity here; one I hope political leaders will learn from. Libya and Syria are empirical data points about what happens then noble and just actions are hijacked for more cynical political gains. That if politicians hope to elevate the state of humanity and create a better world for themselves (and maybe by accident for us all) they need to learn from the lessons of the past…that when we are dogmatic, be it in religion, history or politics, we are condemned to death, destruction and failure.

{End note – As my loyal readers know, I like to have a good supply of images in my posts. Often I use cartoons. When I was looking for images for this post I was struck by the number I found in Arabic…most poignant ones were ‘local’. I have not found this for any other blog I have done to date; I think this is saying something and if I were Assad, I would be looking for a place to retire sooner than later.}

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