The Buzz

No New Libyas

As Bashar al-Assad continues to brutally mow down dissidents, the question on everyone’s lips seems to be: If Libya, why not Syria?

In the new Weekly Standard, Tod Lindberg responds that “the political and diplomatic conditions under which the Libya intervention unfolded were all but uniquely favorable.” The two UN resolutions (one imposing a no-fly zone, the other authorizing military force to protect Libyans), regional support from the Arab League, an ICC warrant for Qaddafi’s arrest, and the willingness of Britain, France and NATO to lead converged to create a situation so perfectly crafted as to make international intervention not only successful but also practically inescapable.

Syria, lacking all these factors, is a different story. Indeed, “Assad’s Syria and Qaddafi’s Libya have nothing in common . . . except for their brutally repressive rulers willing to massacre their own people.”

Lindberg laments that “Libya has set a standard for intervention so pristine as to render the United States incapable of action in the absence of perfect conditions.” Clearly an advocate of anti-Assad intervention, he proposes bringing to the Syria question a lesser standard for action.

But Lindberg ignores a key question: If Libya was such a resounding success, why are the “victors”—NATO, the Arab League, Britain, France, the United States—deliberately avoiding the steps he prescribes to facilitate a Syrian intervention? The answer: Libya was not a “model intervention” in the sense that it will (or perhaps even should) set a precedent. It was a unique, singular occurrence that will not be replicated ad infinitum, even if some of the same circumstances prevail.

Using Libya to justify a Syrian intervention demonstrates the sort of thinking Nikolas Gvosdev and Ray Takeyh predicted in a recent TNI cover story. Responding to this piece, Leslie Gelb, Patrick Buchanan and Marc Lynch all reached the same conclusion: the Libya example, in which values trumped interests and the West swooped in on a new Wilsonian crusade, will not dictate future U.S. foreign policy. Syria is not Libya, and there will not be more Libyas in the near future. Failing to recognize this makes Lindberg’s analysis flawed.