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Published on October 31st, 2011 | by Ben Phillips
Image © [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Assad faces domestic and international calls for reform"][/caption] Six months after the first air strikes on Libyan government forces, NATO's Operation Unified Protector will come to an end tonight. Yet barely ten days on from Gaddafi's death in Sirte, international attention has wandered. Against the backdrop of an increasingly violent political crisis in Syria, Anders Fogh Rasmussen's celebration of the Libyan air campaign as 'one of the most successful in NATO history' would seem to beg the question of whether a repeat performance may be in the offing. While the Syrian opposition have yet to explicitly call for a direct military intervention from NATO, their suggestions of imposing a no-fly zone and arming the nascent Syrian Free Army have already seen NATO officials promptly reject both those possibilities and that of another bombing campaign. As the Guardian reports, Brussels is acutely aware that a hypothetical Syrian operation 'lacks both international consensus and wider regional support'. There are several very obvious levels on which such a thing would be both undesirable and impractical. A prospective political settlement, orchestrated by the Arab League, is in the works; indeed, in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Bashar al-Assad signalled his willingness to work with political opponents. Assad's challenges to the opposition's legitimacy cannot be dismissed outright. It is very difficult to gauge the actual level of support for the Syrian National Council. Likewise, although Assad's conceptualising the political crisis as the latest episode in a long-running battle between Islamism and his own pan-Arab secularism - 'We've been fighting the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1950s and we are still fighting with them' - appears dubious, the Telegraph's vox pops among Syrian Christians and Alawites reveal a genuine fear for their social and civil position in the aftermath of a hypothetical opposition victory. As the BBC's Jim Muir points out, Syria is ethnically and religiously complex in a way Libya is not. Finally, these issues notwithstanding, the sense of NATO's capacity for mission creep in the aftermath of Unified Protector - a supposed mission to protect civilians which in reality provided air support to the rebels and did not stop until Gaddafi was dead - precludes the possibility of the UN Security Council reaching a consensus on Syria. Yet three thousand civilians have already died. If the violence continues to escalate, it may become clear that in Libya NATO committed itself to strategic and ethical imperatives that it is not, in practice, capable of acting upon indefinitely.

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Bashar al-Assad and the Arab Spring

Assad faces domestic and international calls for reform

Six months after the first air strikes on Libyan government forces, NATO’s Operation Unified Protector will come to an end tonight. Yet barely ten days on from Gaddafi’s death in Sirte, international attention has wandered. Against the backdrop of an increasingly violent political crisis in Syria, Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s celebration of the Libyan air campaign as ‘one of the most successful in NATO history’ would seem to beg the question of whether a repeat performance may be in the offing. While the Syrian opposition have yet to explicitly call for a direct military intervention from NATO, their suggestions of imposing a no-fly zone and arming the nascent Syrian Free Army have already seen NATO officials promptly reject both those possibilities and that of another bombing campaign. As the Guardian reports, Brussels is acutely aware that a hypothetical Syrian operation ‘lacks both international consensus and wider regional support’.

There are several very obvious levels on which such a thing would be both undesirable and impractical. A prospective political settlement, orchestrated by the Arab League, is in the works; indeed, in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Bashar al-Assad signalled his willingness to work with political opponents. Assad’s challenges to the opposition’s legitimacy cannot be dismissed outright. It is very difficult to gauge the actual level of support for the Syrian National Council. Likewise, although Assad’s conceptualising the political crisis as the latest episode in a long-running battle between Islamism and his own pan-Arab secularism – ‘We’ve been fighting the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1950s and we are still fighting with them’ – appears dubious, the Telegraph‘s vox pops among Syrian Christians and Alawites reveal a genuine fear for their social and civil position in the aftermath of a hypothetical opposition victory. As the BBC’s Jim Muir points out, Syria is ethnically and religiously complex in a way Libya is not. Finally, these issues notwithstanding, the sense of NATO’s capacity for mission creep in the aftermath of Unified Protector – a supposed mission to protect civilians which in reality provided air support to the rebels and did not stop until Gaddafi was dead – precludes the possibility of the UN Security Council reaching a consensus on Syria. Yet three thousand civilians have already died. If the violence continues to escalate, it may become clear that in Libya NATO committed itself to strategic and ethical imperatives that it is not, in practice, capable of acting upon indefinitely.

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  • firaskay

    "Bashar al-Assad signalled his willingness to work with political opponents"

    I'm sorry mate but that is absolute garbage. Willingness to work with political opponents doesn't happen by mercilessly pounding Syrian cities with tanks, filling the rooftops with snipers shooting randomly at civilians or with gangs roaming the streets and torturing at will. This is a modern day khemir rouge scenario, Assad is on a rampage (just like his dad) to destroy his people's will. Crushing them is the only thing in his mind. If you call that "working with political opponents" then my commiserations to the Arab Spring.

    "It is very difficult to gauge the actual level of support for the Syrian National Council"

    I think the fact that Syrians have been relentlessly protesting peacefully in the face of Assad's killing machine for 8 consecutive months in every city in the Syria should be proof enough. Why don't you ask that angel Bashar to allow media in the country so we can really see what's happening as opposed to merely buying into that bollox.

    "Syria is ethnically and religiously complex in a way Libya is not"

    Maybe so, but Libya is a tribal country split along geographical lines. It was a civil war there that NATO supported. In Syria the striking majority are indeed Sunni, with various other religious minorities allying themselves to Assad. Minorities should not "ask" for protection, this isn't what democracy is about, minorities should expect a free Syria to be an overall better solution solution for everyone. By allying themselves to brutal killers like Assad they are putting themselves in a bad position. Why is Libyan blood more valuable than Syrian blood, that what I'd like to know!

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