As the Syrian revolution enters its 7th month, the perceived success of the NATO military intervention in Libya is gaining momentum among some Syrian opposition circles as a desirable approach to combat the escalation of Assad regime brutality.
This argument however, doesn’t account for the unique differences between the two nations and the realities of foreign interests.
The revolution must and will stay purely a Syrian-driven one, and here are a few points why:
1. The oil factor
Libya’s oil reserves are the largest in Africa and 9th largest in the world. Syria, while utilizing its oil to generate up to 30% of the State’s budget, is not a major oil producer by Middle Eastern standards.
Oil has been, and continues to be, the major influencer that drives western powers to intervene in the Arab world. As we have seen repeatedly over the past 50 years, influence over the production and distribution of oil resources dictates western policy in the area.
Oil is one of the key reasons why western powers were so willing and eager, to push for military intervention in Libya, while turning a blind eye to similar human catastrophes in Syria, Yemen, and even Bahrain.
There is also a practical element to this; the presence of oil ensures that there is a means to pay the bills for the cost of military intervention.
2. A ‘readied’ opposition
Within weeks of the outbreak of pro-democracy demonstrations in Libya, a national transitional council was formed. We have learned that this was not coincidental. Additionally, senior military figures along with disgruntled influencers in Libya had been coordinating with NATO powers to ensure an alternative to Qaddafi’s regime, and were readied in Benghazi. This is not to say that the revolution was compromised or triggered by these elements. Far from it. Rather, they were ready to step in shortly after the Libyan people began demanding change.
The Syrian case is very different and as we have seen, the diverse opposition has been anything but ready. Unlike Libya, there will not be one entity to represent the revolution. Rather, there are networks of individuals representing outside opposition elements, local revolutionary committees, and the traditional ‘banned’ parties inside Syria.
This does not give the Western powers the confidence that any ‘partners’ they empower will ensure their interests are implementable once Assad falls.
3. No Fly Zones & ‘boots on the ground’
Many have called for a no fly zone (NFZ) to protect Syrian protestors. It is easy to ask for a NFZ, but this assumes that world powers can muster the political support to implement one (they cannot).
An NFZ essentially requires a state of war to effectively destroy air defense systems along with intelligence coordination on the ground to guide such attacks.
Assad’s air force has not so far been a major repressive force against the protestors, and while some have suggested an NFZ would deter regime security forces from traveling from city to city, it is highly unlikely, that NATO would engage in a ground war, when there are no military partners on the ground.
Such factors were present in Libya. Elements of the Libyan military defected early on in the uprising, therefore ensuring a coordinated response. Syria does not have this. While there have been desertions across the conscript army, there have not been any mass desertions that can amount to a substantial force.
Additionally, as with ‘intervention’ in other Arab nations, there would be a major concern that NATO would destroy the infrastructure in Syria. Without the oil revenue to rebuild, however, this would severely stunt Syria’s post-Assad recovery.
4. The People’s revolution
To date, the protest movement has effectively held to three key pillars:
- Peaceful revolution – “no” to violent resistance
- The Syrian people are ONE – “no” to sectarianism
- This is a Syrian people’s revolution – “no” to foreign military intervention
The Syrian people have shown tremendous courage and discipline in keeping the protest movement peaceful to date. This has served to show the world the principled aims of the revolution, but has also been pragmatic, as there has been no homegrown military response as there was in Libya.
This being said, Syrians have the right, in the face of such brutality, to confront the regime with armed resistance.
To introduce foreign military intervention, however, will take the Syrian people out of the driver’s seat and cause a further disconnect among Syrians: splitting the support for the revolution and even galvanizing many to defend the nation on the side of the regime against outsiders.
While not a military one, there is a role to play for the Western and other international powers – namely, a humanitarian role (aid and international observers to act as shields for protesters), and a role in the form of diplomatic, economic, and political isolation of the regime to ensure that the Syrian people can themselves finish the job.
Furthermore, it is abundantly clear that Western nations will not intervene militarily, because such an intervention does not align with their interests. With this in mind, those figures in the Syrian opposition who call for foreign military intervention, should take heed and stop asking for it. It is reactionary and short-sighted to do so.
It is quite possible that the nature of the revolution may change from a peaceful one to an armed resistance. However, it must be made clear that the Syrian people themselves will deliver freedom to their nation – it won’t come on the wings of the West.