Vermont Public Radio comment for Friday June 1st, 2012

  INTRO: The bloodletting in Syria continues to confound the international community. What America should be doing has also become a presidential election campaign issue. This morning commentator and veteran ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore offers his analysis.
TEXT: For 14 months, Syrian President Bashar Assad has shown no mercy in trying to crush the originally peaceful opposition to the Assad family’s forty year dictatorship. More than 10,000 Syrians have been killed. The crisis reached a new level of barbarity last weekend, when according to a United Nations count, more than 100 people were massacred, including 34 women and 47 children. Most of the victims were shot at close range, evidently by Assad’s militiamen.
The Syrian uprising began last year as part of the Arab Spring when peaceful protesters throughout the Arab world, took to the streets to demand freedom from decades of oppression. Ultimately the tyrants of Egypt, Libya and Yemen were overthrown – and America played important roles in those ousters.  

Egypt was a long time ally and substantial recipient of U.S. military aid. These were factors in the Egyptian military’s crucial decision to remain neutral in the struggle between protesters and former President Hosni Mubarak- which hastened his departure. In Libya, America organized and directed the NATO bombing campaign that ended with leader Moammar Kaddafi’s military defeat and death.

But little has been done, by anyone, to stop the killing in Syria, which continually raises the question, if military intervention to save lives was okay in Libya, why not Syria?  
These are the  answers.
-The military intervention in Libya had the full support of the U.N. Security Council , including Russia and China. The Arab League backed it, as did key members of NATO who were willing to contribute substantial military assets.

-The topography of Libya, where the bulk of the population was spread out on a narrow strip of desert along the Mediterranean Sea made it ideal for NATO planes to patrol and attack when Kaddafi’s troops overpowered the rebels.

-The rebels were a mixed bag, but they held territory and their leadership was generally known.  

None of these conditions prevails in Syria.

- China, and especially Russia - a long time supporter of the Assad family - have blocked any UN resolution that would put significant outside pressure on the regime.
- As for a bombing campaign:  much of Syria is mountainous and its air defenses are a lot better than Libya’s. This would make tactical bombing less effective, meaning ground troops could be necessary.
-The Syrian opposition is highly fragmented and holds no territory. And  it is believed to include al Qaeda factions.
- Also, Syria is a potent mix of Alawites, Shiites, Sunnis and Christians that could explode into a major sectarian civil war that could well spread to neighboring countries. 

Mitt Romney, the expected Republican candidate for president, has offered few alternatives, but predictably has attacked President Barack Obama for what he called a “policy of paralysis” which had allowed, “the slaughter of 10,000 individuals.”
 Actually, only Russia has the real power to force Assad to step down in favor of a Syrian government of national unity. That would be the most practical way to avoid many more unnecessary deaths.

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