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The West to Syria's rebels: You aren't Libya

February 9, 2012 | 12:01 pm

Wounded Syrian rebel
So what have the Syrians done wrong?

When rebels in Libya revolted against the regime of Moammar Kadafi last year, the West rushed in with air power when it appeared that the insurgents would be slaughtered by government forces.

And the airstrikes continued to the bloody end -- Kadafi's bloody death included.

But in Syria, antigovernment protesters have been fighting -- and dying -- for months trying to overthrow the regime of President Bashar Assad.

So where's the NATO air power?  I mean, what's a rebel group got to do for a few 500-pound bombs? Are the lives of Syrian rebels less important than those in Libya?

The cold, hard answer is yes. Syria's rebels aren’t going to get NATO's help.

Why? 

As we used to say in the Cold War days, it's realpolitik.

In truth, what happened in Libya is the exception in foreign affairs.  Just when you think a precedent has been set, there hasn't.

An example? Nuclear weapons.  North Korea -- all Western bluster aside -– is allowed to have the bomb. But the fact that Iran is trying to acquire one brings talk of World War III.

It's much the same with Libya and Syria. The West could afford to challenge Kadafi, who in the end had few outside friends.  But Syria, and Assad, have powerful outside allies, including, as we saw this week, Russia and China.  And, of course, Iran.

Overt Western action to promote regime change in Syria, then, risks a wider conflict.  The Libya action didn't pose as big a gamble.

For an excellent update on the situation in Syria, read Times staff writers Patrick J. McDonnell and Paul Richter’s story this week.  As they point out, the situation in Syria is more like that in Saddam Hussein's Iraq than in Kadafi's Libya. And we know how Iraq turned out.

So is the world forced to stand by while Assad butchers his own people?

Of course not. There are diplomatic tools available. The Obama administration and others are using them.

But that's cold comfort for the people in Syria fighting -– and being killed daily by -- an oppressive regime.

Unfortunately, it's the only comfort they're likely to get.

ALSO:

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Afghanistan's future? Same as it ever was: Bloody

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Two Syrians evacuate an injured fellow opposition member in the northwestern city of Idlib this month. Credit: Associated Press

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