The John McCains of the world have moved right past Libya and sought NATO intervention in Syria, another country featuring a brutal crackdown of a protest movement. By some estimates, 3,000 protesters have been murdered by the security forces, with thousands more detained and tortured. The Assad regime claims that 1,000 security officers have been killed by protesters, but there’s no way to independently verify this.

Robert Fisk believes that the country is on the verge of a sectarian civil war:

Of course, the Assad government had been warning of a sectarian war. Of course, the Assad government has set itself up as the only sure protector of minorities. Of course, the Assad government had claimed that Islamists and “terrorists” were behind the street opposition to the regime. It’s also clear that the brutality of the Syrian security forces in Deraa and Homs and other cities against unarmed protesters has been a scandal, which those in the government privately acknowledge.

But it’s also transparent that the struggle in Syria now cuts through the centre of the country and that many armed men now oppose the army […] If the UN figure of more than 3,000 civilian dead is correct and if the Syrian statistic of 1,150 military deaths are correct and if the deaths of the last three days – perhaps another 50 – are true, then up to 4,200 Syrians have been killed in seven months. And that’s enough to frighten anyone.

Repression by government forces continued this week and even into today, where at least 30 have been killed when police opened fire on a demonstration and engaged in house-to-house assassinations after the protests ended in Homs and Hama.

The Assad regime has staged pro-government demonstrations as well, with 200,000 coming out to a square in Damascus. At the same time, there are general strikes going on periodically, put together by the protest movement.

What Bashar al-Assad has gotten right where Moammar Gadhafi got it wrong is that he has tried to maintain good relations with his colleagues in the Arab League. A delegation from Qatar met with Assad in an effort to get him to stop the violence, but so far there are not enough member states willing to expel Syria or have them face consequences for their actions. French foreign minister Alain Juppe said this point-blank:

“This will end with the fall of the regime. It is nearly unavoidable,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.

“But unfortunately it could take time because the situation is complex, because there is a risk of civil war between Syrian factions, because surrounding Arab countries do not want us to intervene,” he told French radio.

France and other Western nations used the fig leaf of Arab League support to intervene on behalf of the rebels in Libya. In Syria, activists have now called for NATO protection, with either a no-fly zone or at the least international observers to monitor the violence.

Juan Cole doesn’t think we’re at the civil war stage just yet, but after months of stalemate and the repression just continuing, the potential for more violence is almost assured. Intervention shouldn’t be entered into cavalierly, contra McCain, and may be unwise. But it’s not totally clear what separates Libya from Syria at this point.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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