COMMENTARY | Mohammed Abbas of Reuters reported on March 19, 2011, that France fired the first shot on Muammar Gaddafi’s ground forces in Libya. Fast forward more than a year later and you find an Associated Press report on Sunday, June 3, that France has announced it would support a United Nations-backed military operation in Syria against Bashar al-Assad and his forces. France, the country still remembered by many Americans for its open disdain against President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, seems primed to take the lead again for another U.N. military campaign.
The BBC reported that 108 people were confirmed dead by U.N. observers in the Houla region of Syria after the pro-regime-led massacre on May 25. The chilling massacre has led many Western leaders to believe that some type of military intervention will be necessary to oust leader Bashar al-Assad.
The restraint shown for military intervention by the West is refreshing to see after a Bush era of wars that didn’t take into account exit strategies for Afghanistan and Iraq. Syria, unlike Libya, is a country with two major allies in close proximity (Iran and Russia) that the West doesn’t want to fight a proxy war with. However, with the brutality of Assad’s regime undeniable, Syria may see waning support from Iran and eventually Russia.
Iran has rejoined negotiation talks over its nuclear program and top Iranian officials reported to Iran’s local Press TV that they are determined to reach a final agreement with Western nations in Moscow later in June. With Iran possibly trying to smooth things over with Western countries in order to avoid further crippling sanctions, Syria’s bloodbath in Houla is not the kind of news Iran wants to see coming out of the country that is one of their few allies in the region.
A week after the Syrian massacre, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke out against the events. While Ahmadinejad stopped short of directly putting the blame on the Assad regime, The Associated Press published a report where he said the following to France’s 24 Television Station: “The people responsible for this massacre must be punished, must be sanctioned.” Any type of criticism from Ahmadinejad against Syria is rare and must be worrisome to Assad and his regime.
Russia holds all the cards for intervention as they possess a critical veto vote that would defeat a resolution that supports any type of military operation in Syria. France is the only country that has been able to hold a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Syria. Newly elected French President Francois Hollande conducted a meeting with President Putin on Friday, June 1. The BBC reports that President Putin described the confrontation to correspondents as “intolerable.”
While President Putin seems resolved not to change his mind, you can bet that France will lead the international pressure that will be mounting on the doorsteps of Moscow — just as they are sure to lead the way again if military intervention in Syria does take place.
Mohammed Abbas, “French planes fire first shot in Libya intervention,” Free Republic
“France Says Military Action in Syria Only Under UN,” ABC News
“Timeline: Syria’s massacres,” BBC News
“Iran, P5+1 to reach final conclusion in Moscow: Official,” Press TV
“Iran Leader: Punishment for Syria Massacre,” ABC News
“Syria Conflict: Russia’s Vladimir Putin stands firm,” BBC News