U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the international community is having a far harder time resolving the political unrest in Syria than it did in Libya largely because it lacks the consensus that facilitated NATO’s campaign against Moammar Gadhafi.
“We do not yet have that,” she told youth leaders in Copenhagen. “We have very strong opposition from Russia and China, but it’s primarily Russia. And that makes it harder to put together an international coalition.”
Clinton says Iran helping to set-up sectarian militia and Russia continuing to sell arms is setting the stage for a civil war in Syria that Moscow says it is trying to avoid. “My argument to the Russians is – they keep telling me they don’t want to see a civil war, and I have been telling them their policy is going to help contribute to a civil war,” Clinton said.
“We have very strong opposition from Russia and China, but it’s primarily Russia. And that makes it harder to put together an international coalition,” – Secretary Clinton.
But it is not just the lack of international consensus that is complicating Syria.
It is a much larger, more diverse society than Libya where opponents of President Bashar al-Assad are far less unified than those who were opposed to Colonel Gadhafi.
“There is a professional military; there was not in Libya,” Clinton said. “There was a safe haven that could be operated out of – that Benghazi became – and then you could move west. The air defenses in Syria are significantly tougher than Libya. The Arab League called for action by the Security Council. The Arab League has supported the Kofi Annan mission; they haven’t been united to call for military action yet.”
Syria also has far more potentially-destabilizing regional complexities than Libya. Jordan is concerned about its own territorial integrity. Turkey worries that it could be more vulnerable to Kurdish terrorists. Lebanon fears further cross-border violence.
“A lot of people are trying to figure out what could be an effective intervention that wouldn’t cause more death and suffering,” Clinton said. “And in Libya, partly because it was a small population in a vast expanse, much of it not particularly populated, there was a theater for intervention that was quite successful in avoiding civilian casualties. That seems much more difficult, if not impossible [in Syria].”
Clinton added that there is much civilian and humanitarian and military planning underway about how best to resolve Syria’s 15 months of violence, “but the factors are just not there.”
Scott Stearns is VOA's State Department correspondent. He has worked as the Dakar Bureau Chief, White House correspondent, and Nairobi Bureau Chief since beginning his career as a freelance reporter in the Liberian civil war. He has written for the BBC, UPI, the Associated Press, The Jerusalem Post, and The Economist. Scott has a Bachelors and Masters in Journalism from Northwestern University.