Syria is an avowed enemy of the West, a strong candidate for membership in the Axis of Evil. Closely aligned with Iran, it is inherently hostile to Israeli and American interests, funds terror and is now slaughtering its own civilians. And yet, in the Obama White House, the ongoing chaos in Syria has been treated with limited interest. There is certainly none of the apparent umbrage that was directed at former Egyptian leader (and longtime U.S.-ally) Hosni Mubarak in his final days in power, and there is little worry that President Bashar Assad’s government will share the same fate as Gaddafi’s regime, which is being bombed by NATO for committing crimes very similar to the ones currently taking place in cities and towns across Syria.
If one were to use Libya as the standard for when Western intervention is warranted, Syria would certainly qualify. The military crackdown against anti-government protesters continues. Military forces loyal to President Assad have killed more than 400 civilians since March, with more than 100 of those occurring in the last week alone. Syrians have braved gunfire from soldiers to collect the bodies from the streets and to ensure they receive proper burials. The latter, especially, has proven dangerous: On Saturday, military snipers opened fire on a funeral procession for those killed by government forces, adding a reported nine more to the death toll.
Such use of military force against civilians is despicable, but not exactly out of character for the regime. Syria has been classified as a state sponsor of terrorism by the State Department since 1979, and has continued to support anti-Western groups active in Iraq and the Palestinian territories. It is also deeply involved in the destabilization of Lebanon, which Syria has long hoped to control. Assad’s regime, for example, is widely suspected of involvement, as is Hezbollah, in the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri in 2005. Hariri had been critical of Syria’s influence in Lebanon, and was killed by a suicide bomber.
Syria has also dabbled in acquiring weapons of mass destruction. In 2007, there was a strange series of news reports detailing Israeli aircraft violating Syrian airspace and firing munitions into an empty field. Before too long, it became public knowledge that what Syria hoped people thought was an empty field was actually a nuclear facility that the regime was secretly constructing with the help of the North Koreans. Once Israel and the United States became aware of its existence, the Israeli Air Force destroyed the facility in a surprise air attack. Syria denied that the facility had a military purpose and then refused to cooperate with the international inspectors sent to examine the rubble.
In short, Syria is just as devious and dangerous a regime as Libya, arguably more so, particularly insofar as Israel is concerned. And yet the West has decided to sit this one out.
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