Two United States senators on Sunday said the Libyan intervention should be the “model” for international action in Syria.
Unlike was the case in Libya, where Britain, France and NATO allies last year rallied the international community to support a military intervention after the North African country’s dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, had deployed heavy force against anti-government protests, world nations have struggled to come up with a unified response to the onslaught in Syria.
For almost a year, President Bashar al-Assad has suppressed dissent in his country with state violence. What started as demonstrations against his regime has since morphed into a civil war.
Arab countries, Turkey and the United States have expressed support for the Syrian rebels but are hesitant to intervene over the objections of China and Russia which have twice blocked resolutions in the United Nations Security Council that deplored the situation in Syria and called on Assad to step down.
Hawkish Republican lawmakers in the United States, including Arizona senator John McCain and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have urged tougher sanctions on Damascus and suggested that Arab and Western states should arm the Syrian opposition. They were joined by a member of President Barack Obama’s party on Sunday when Democrat Richard Blumenthal, a senator for Connecticut, said, “Libya is a model for how we can aid rebels.”
Blumenthal, who, like Graham, sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Fox News Sunday that there was bipartisan support for attempts to help the Syrian rebels. “That aid can be technical assistance, communications equipments, humanitarian aid, financial support and, if possible, arms that would go indirectly.”
He insisted that such support should be organized internationally and that America would put no troops on the ground.
Appearing alongside Blumenthal on the same program, Graham said that military aid could go through the Arab League. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said last month that arming the Syrian rebels was an “excellent idea” while the emir of Qatar openly called for an intervention in January.
“We need more international pressure,” said Graham. “We need to help the rebels militarily, economically and let Assad know that he is an international outlaw and be held accountable.” He added that the United States should consider enforcing a no-fly zone as NATO did over Libya.
China and Russia are unlikely to endorse military intervention in Syria because, as they see it, Arab states and NATO extended their United Nations mandate to protect civilians in Libya and actively participated in the ouster of Gaddafi.
Neighboring countries of Syria’s on the other hand, including Saudi Arabia, welcome the opportunity to help topple Assad who is an ally of Iran’s. For his regime to fall and be replaced by probably a Sunni dominated leadership would be a huge boost to Saudi Arabia’s standing in the region, especially after its client government in Lebanon was undermined by the militant organization Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, a little more than a year ago.
Regime change would therefore also serve the American interest. It would weaken Iran’s reach across the Middle East and strengthen Western allies.
However, because Syria is far more divided along ethnic and religious lines than Libya was and because the geography is vastly different, an expedition could take longer and involve the United States in what is now a bloody civil war.
For these very reasons, America’s top military officer, General Martin Dempsey, has cautioned against military support for the Syrian rebels. “I think it’s premature to take a decision to arm the opposition movement in Syria because I would challenge anyone to clearly identify for me the opposition movement in Syria at this point,” he said in an interview with CNN last month.