Now that Baba Amr has fallen with appalling brutality, the Western press is full of demands for intervention to forestall any further such genocidal episodes. More thoughtful minds insist that Western intervention would be counter-productive. Syria is no Libya: its 20 million population is three times that of Libya, concentrated in big towns and cities which combine a variety of ethnic and religious groupings.
Syria has nothing like the Libyan divide between a pro-rebel east focused on Benghazi and a pro-regime west centred on Tripoli; in Syria protests have occurred throughout the country. Nor has there been a clear demand for foreign military intervention from Syria’s opposition which remains fractured and split.
However, what has received no mention at all in the Western media is that low-level Western military intervention is already well under way, indeed has been in action since May 2011. According to Milliyet, a Turkish newspaper, France has already sent its military training forces to Turkey and Lebanon to train the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and the French, British and Turkish authorities have reached an agreement to send arms into Syria. Even more significantly, Ahmet Davitoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, has openly admitted that Turkey will invade Syria as soon as the Western allies agree to do so.
It is not a question of intervention or non-intervention: there are many gradations along the force spectrum. Initially there is training and intelligence-gathering, already in place for some 10 months. Then there is provision of funding, communication equipment, medical weapons, etc. Then the supply of weapons to rebel forces, but initially restricted to arms native to the country so as to maintain deniability of assistance. Then when it is clear that such weapons are inadequate for the purpose, more powerful weapons are supplied (like the US FIM-92Stinger man-portable air defence systems in Afghanistan in the 1980s), though that reveals outsied patrons. Then foreign special operations forces may be bought in to work with local ground forces, and perhaps foreign airpower is brought to bear. All those steps precede actual foreign invasion, and many are already apparent in Syria.
The politics of the Syrian imbroglio has also been downplayed in the Western media. Whilst the brutalities of the Syrian regime are utterly terrible, that is not the primary consideration of the big powers. In addition to their largely economic geopolitical interests centred around oil and gas, their main concern in the area is a weakening of Iran, of which Assad is a main ally, since a nuclear-armed Iran would severely blunt the ability of the West to intervene with conventional military forces in the world’s most important oil-producing region.
Again, despite all the ‘freedom and democracy’ rhetoric coming out of Western capitals and the excoriation of Russia for blocking action via the UN Security Council, Putin certainly wants an end to the bloodshed as much as anyone else, and has made clear he holds no particular brief for Assad, but he is determined to stop the US, UK, France again using carefully crafted texts in the Security Council as a blind for their real objective of regime change, as happened over Libya. It is difficult to fault that.