Since 1989 when the thaw of dictatorships began, around the world, it became increasingly difficult for public opinion in the democracies to stand by idly while revolutions were crushed by tyrants. If the democratization of Eastern Europe, Latin America and parts of sub-Saharan Africa has advanced, and will continue to proceed, without too much violence, that’s not the case everywhere. And the idea comes to some to intervene. That’s what we did, in very different circumstances, in Ivory Coast and Lybia. This is what some would like us to do today in Syria.
The tragedy of the Syrian people is horrific. This beautiful region, the cradle of very ancient cultures, where France bears particular responsibility since she received the League of Nations mandate in 1920, has been experiencing since sixteen months a terrible civil war, where a people of great courage, is fighting almost with his hands and fists, against a terrible tyrant who no longer hesitates to use his army to massacre them.
Can we admit that we have acted in Lybia and that we are not acting in Syria?
For most leaders of the great powers, there is no question of launching a new war; and the best solution is to hope that the power of Assad collapses in on itself. Meanwhile, negotiations are made and some doctors are sent to treat the wounded in refugee camps in Jordan.
For others, like the Russians or the Chinese (and no doubt the Vatican), Assad is not worse than what may come after him, and it would be better to help him by suggesting moderation.
And for others, Aleppo is equivalent to Benghazi and, at the request of the Syrian leaders of the revolution, action must be taken quickly. But they do not go further in their recommendations: is it necessary to supply arms to the rebels, at the risk that they find their way, as in Lybia and Afghanistan, into the hands of terrorists? Is it necessary to declare a no-fly zone, at the risk of having to engage in Air commitment to combats to enforce it? Is it necessary to go as far, as in Lybia, and Ivory Coast, as to commit to a ground intervention? Those who demand that we act do not know how to be more specific.
Because the situation diplomatically and militarily is obviously totally different from that of Lybia. First, because neither Russia nor China, whose support is necessary to respect the requirements laid down in the Charter of the United Nations, will approve this time the use of force. Secondly, because the geographical location of Syria cannot be regarded as sufficient for the type of aerial engagement which opened the way for a coalition victory in Lybia. Finally, because, whatever decision is made, the same question is arising, at the same time, and most importantly for French interests, in northern Mali. As it arises in Iran, Belarus and many other places in the world.
In theory, to act effectively, it would be necessary that NATO, recognizing itself finally for what it is, that is to say an alliance of democratic nations, makes the decision, without waiting for an impossible UN authorization, to send heavy weapons and air coverage, to an insurgency that would have previously adhered to the principles of a democratic society and that would accept that an international supervision would ensure that these principles will be respected. It is clear that this is impracticable, for now, in the world as it is.
For now. Because history teaches us that those who refuse to defend from afar their values end up forgetting them at home.