PARIS — Although pressure is rising in France and other European nations for military intervention to stop the bloodshed in Syria, leaders are stymied by an unpleasant reality: Lessons learned from last year’s NATO operation in Libya suggest that taking down President Bashar al-Assad would be impossible without large-scale involvement by the United States.
The urge to do something is particularly strong in France, which has historical ties to Syria and whose then-President Nicolas Sarkozy rallied the United States and other allies around his proposal to bomb government forces in Libya. Moreover, France is the country where the idea of a “right to intervene” to save lives abroad was born, and where it has since expanded in the eyes of many into a “duty to intervene.”
A look at the Syrian uprising one year later. Thousands of Syrians have died and President Bashar al-Assad remains in power, despite numerous calls by the international community for him to step down.
Latest stories from Foreign
Russian drift station, which went into operation Oct. 1, is threatened by the rapid melt of the Arctic ice sheet.
The Syrian Opposition Coalition is skeptical about the announcement, cites its ‘lack of clarity.’
Afghan police and insurgents wage a gun battle in a Kabul district that includes key government buildings.
Instead of crossing Syria, Turkey’s truckers now sail around it, driving home an age-old truth: In war, commerce improvises.
After building a coalition by embracing liberal social issues, prime minister is challenged from the right.
Frustrated by Russian and Chinese vetoes in the U.N. Security Council and President Obama’s reluctance to commit U.S. forces, some French opinion leaders have criticized President Francois Hollande for failing to organize an international intervention even without a Security Council mandate. The implication of their challenge is that a resolute France could persuade Obama to change his mind or that a French-led European coalition could act with neighboring Turkey.
Sarkozy’s one public gesture since his defeat at the polls in May, for instance, was to accuse Hollande of vacationing at the beach while Syrian rebels die at the hands of Assad’s army. Sarkozy’s followers swiftly joined in, eager to portray Hollande as inexperienced in foreign affairs and unable to show leadership.
Bernard Henri-Levy, the philosopher and commentator who promoted Libya’s opposition leaders with Sarkozy and the public last year, said recently he also is disappointed with Hollande for his failure to intervene militarily and suggested that he and other European leaders are overestimating the obstacles to overthrowing Assad.
“Everybody knows that not a lot is necessary anymore to finish off the government,” Henri-Levy said in a newspaper interview, suggesting that the Turkish air force might be sufficient. “We just need a pilot in the plane.”
Eager to demonstrate initiative in the face of such criticism, Hollande announced recently that if Syria’s disparate rebel groups would come together around a government in exile, France would recognize it immediately. Similar support from Sarkozy last year helped the Libyan rebel movement come together against Moammar Gaddafi. But France and a half-dozen other nations have been trying without success to prod Syrian rebel groups into a unified command for months.
The French Foreign Ministry revealed last week that France is providing humanitarian aid directly to rebel-controlled towns inside Syria. According to reports in Paris, France also has provided training and non-lethal military equipment such as night-vision goggles.
Although dismissed by specialists, Henri-Levy’s exhortations fell into a generally receptive audience because the Libyan intervention is viewed here as a proud success for France and its military. Not only did Sarkozy rally others in Paris to start the operation but not a single French pilot was lost, even though French aircraft flew about 25 percent of the strike missions during seven months of bombing against 7,600 targets.