Al-Assad's statements are indicative of an increasing trend of Syrian
opposition members--or foreign activists lobbying on their behalf--making
selective demands of outsiders to provide military support, albeit on
their own terms.
This represents the trend toward "intervention a la carte," whereby
overhead surveillance assets, logistical enablers, peacekeepers, armed
drones, combat aircraft, ground troops, or smuggled weapons are demanded
and presumably applied as opposition movements see fit.
This has been particularly evident in the public discussions on
whether a no-fly zone (NFZ) should be imposed over Syria. An anonymous 25-year-old FSA member boasted, "The [Assad] regime would only last thirty days" with a NFZ. Another FSA member, Lt. Col. Abdullah Yousef, claimed,
"If there is such a zone, the regime will not last for a week." Such
wishful thinking is reminiscent of statements by Abdel Hafeez Goga, the
deputy chief of the Libyan rebels' Transitional National Council,
who--before the western intervention--mistakenly believed, "We are capable of controlling all of Libya, but only after the no-fly zone is imposed."
NFZs have the dual benefits of applying coercive pressure on a
targeted regime while simultaneously allowing an opposition movement to
claim that its uprising is free of foreign footprints on the ground. In
Syria, however--as was true in Libya--a NFZ becomes irrelevant when civilians are mainly attacked by tanks and snipers on the ground. As the State Department spokesperson pointed out earlier this month, "What a no-fly zone does in a situation like that is not particularly clear." Warnings
from a Libyan doctor on the eve of NATO's intervention also apply to
Syria: "This no-fly zone doesn't mean anything to us because Qaddafi
only had a few planes and they were doing nothing. We need a no-drive
zone because it is tanks and snipers that are killing us."
Likewise, Syrian opposition groups do not agree on the intended
objectives of international military support. All of the groups endorse
President Assad's downfall, including the Syrian National Council, which
lists "toppling of the regime" as a founding goal.
Yet, rather than simply acknowledging that outside intervention is to
help assure regime change, each group claims that they only need support
to protect civilians. Although this strategy makes sense after Libya
demonstrated that a regime change double-team by domestic and external
forces is a resource intensive, uncertain, and open ended commitment, it
is impossible to distinguish between the two intertwined objectives.
This was summarized in an interview with Burhan Ghalioun, the purported
SNC spokesperson, when asked: "Is the international protection you are
demanding intended to protect civilians or to topple the regime?"
"Our goal is to protect civilians. Toppling the regime is
the task of the Syrian people, not foreign forces. But protection would
certainly help sustain the revolution and expand the base of those
participating in it."
Finally, apparently beggars can be choosers, as Syrian opposition
groups are also selective about which countries should participate in
the intervention. An elder statesman of the opposition, Haitham
al-Maleh, initially called for NATO to intervene under the principle of
R2P, but later clarified
his position:"I do not and did not agree to NATO intervention...NATO
means America and I'm against that." Lt. Salem Odeh, a Syrian army
"I just hope there will be Turkish military intervention. It's better,
and they have longstanding blood ties from old times, and they are
closer to the East than West." An exiled Muslim Brotherhood member agreed:
"If other interventions are required, such as air protection...then the
people will accept Turkish intervention. They do not want Western
intervention." Another, more tolerant, activist in Deir al-Zour welcomed the idea that "Arab governments should make a no-fly zone over Syria."