“The atmosphere in Europe has changed fundamentally. Yes, we were in an economic crisis in 2011, when Libya happened, but there was still a sense it was a manageable crisis. Europe had confidence that it doesn’t have today,” said Tomas Valasek, director of foreign policy and defense at the Center for European Reform in London.
In France, voters booted out the hyperactive Sarkozy last month, opting for Francois Hollande. He appears unlikely to push for intervention in the way his predecessor did in Libya, although France and others in Europe imposed bans on oil imports from Syria late last year.
In Britain, where Prime Minister David Cameron was the other major partner in persuading the United States to take part in the Libya action, the government is confronting a slow-boiling scandal over media ethics. Cameron’s austerity-driven efforts to overhaul his country’s economy also have run aground.
And Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is an unelected technocrat who replaced Berlusconi late last year. Berlusconi gave over Italian air bases for the bombing campaign against Libya. But Monti lacks the political mandate to push ahead on military intervention in Syria.
“There is absolutely no champion for Syria,” said Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London. “March last year was a fairly propitious moment for Sarkozy and Cameron to lead the drive on Libya and take the case to the White House. They just didn’t have the same domestic distractions.”
Germany, which has a long history of caution about military intervention, declined to take part in the Libya action. But Germany stands the best chance of swaying Putin toward a tougher line against Syria.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that she would talk about Syria during Putin’s visit, which had been scheduled to focus on economics.
“A disaster is taking place in Syria, and we will do everything we can to alleviate the suffering of the people,” Merkel told reporters in Stralsund, Germany.
“There’s growing demand to do something,” said Stefan Kornelius, foreign editor of the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung. “But nobody knows what that something would be.”
Staff writer William Wan, traveling with Panetta, contributed to this report.