On March 19th, it will be a year, day for day, since squadrons of French planes, later followed by British, American and Arab aircraft, saved Benghazi from what would have been its inevitable destruction.
Well, things being what they are and if the international community does not pull itself together, this anniversary may have the bitter taste of ashes and failure.
For today, there is a new Benghazi.
There is a city in the region that is in precisely the same situation as was Benghazi.
To be exact, there is a city that finds itself in even more dire straits than Benghazi was, since the same type of tanks, stationed in the same manner, at the same distance from unarmed civilian populations have, this time, already gone into action, and this for the past several months.
This city is Homs.
This is the Syrian capital of pain, where they target journalists and massacre civilians indiscriminately.
And the fact is: what we did there, we are not doing here; the same tanks our aviators nailed to the ground in Libya, just hours before they let loose their fire, are operating in Syrian with complete impunity.
Of course, I am aware that the two situations are not identical.
And no one can ignore that the geography of the country, the lack of an equivalent of this vast back-up zone of liberated Cyrenaica or, moreover, the fact that it enjoys the support of two influential allies Kadhafi did not have — Iran and Russia — complicate intervention.
There comes a moment when enough is enough.
There is a moment when, confronted with the carnage, the trifle of 8000 dead, victims of Bashar al-Assad’s tanks, the dismal sideshow of this referendum supposedly organized, what’s more, under the hail of shells and sniper fire, one must have the elementary dignity to say, « Stop! »
Yes, there is a moment when an international community that has voted by overwhelming majority (137 votes at the United Nations General Assembly on February 16th) to condemn the assassin can no longer allow itself to remain the paralyzed hostage of these two hoodlum States, in this instance, China and Russia. (On March 10th, 2011, facing a threat that, I repeat, was in the earliest stages of execution, didn’t French President Sarkozy tell the representatives of the National Transitional Council of Libya who had come to the Elysée to request intervention that, naturally, he would do all he could to obtain United Nations backing, but that if by chance he could not, given the urgency of the situation, he would be satisfied with the reduced legitimate authority of the endorsement of the European Union, NATO, and the Arab League?)
And as for the argument of geography, the idea according to which an intervention in an urban area would be more problematic than a strike in the desert is an equally unconvincing excuse. This is, first of all, because at Homs, as at Idlib or Banias, there are also a few tanks posted a few kilometers outside the city and consequently capable of being neutralized; but it is especially because the friends of Syria have a whole range of means of intervention that would not be a simple replica of what worked in Libya but would, forcibly, be adapted to the terrain at hand.
They can, for example, establish perimeters of security, maintained by an Arab peace-keeping force, at the borders with Jordan, Turkey, and, perhaps, Lebanon, in the spirit of the Qatari foreign minister’s suggestion in Washington last week,
In the spirit of the suggestion offered simultaneously by the Turkish foreign minister, they can impose « no kill » zones, sanctuary areas in the heart of the country, maintained by elements of the Free Syrian Army equipped with defensive weapons.
Outside these zones, they can hand the Free Syrians the necessary weapons so that they, themselves, can destroy the artillery pieces Hamas has installed near schools and hospitals. .
They can declare certain areas off limits — in the sky, to helicopters and deadly airplanes and, on the ground, to armored convoys transporting troops and matériel.
With the support of the Turkish army which, confronted with the Iranian threat, has long since chosen its camp and has the two NATO bases of Izmir and Incirlik, they can survey these zones and, if necessary, make sure they are respected.
And it might be useful for the same friends of Syria to suggest that their Egyptian « brothers » close the Suez Canal to all Iranian ships like those that, last week once again, unloaded weapons and instructors at the Russian base of Tartus.
Is all this risky?
But it is less so than the civil war Assad is working up to, one that would transform Syria into a new Iraq.
Less so than the reinforcement, if Assad wins the day, of this Shi’ite axis they’re dreaming of in Tehran, one that threatens world peace.
And less so than the moral disaster we shall be compelled to face if the « responsibility to protect, » superbly undertaken in Libya, should return to the hell of betrayed ideals in Syria.