A ruler is killing his own people; Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's militants are targeting protestors from rooftops, torturing, raping and starving whole cities as though their inhabitants were enemies in a war. In just one year, more than 7, 000 Syrians have paid for their fight for democracy with their lives. Indeed, the world is watching the horror unfold in shaky youtube videos, eyewitness accounts and the articles of western journalists. Reporters die in Assad's hail of bombs. The united nations is restless, conscience-stricken; it condemns Assad and denounces his catalogue of human rights violations in Syria, but it is not ready to take the final step: a military intervention. Would an intervention similar to that that helped liberate the Libyan people not also help the Syrians? Is the 'responsibility to protect' only applicable when tanks are firing on civilians?
The answer is painful. Although the west wants very much to come to the aid of the Syrians, its hands are tied. In Libya, an air strike was all it took to protect the retreat of the rebels from Gaddafi's approaching soldiers. Nato destroyed the army's logistics, and thus was able to cover the backs of the revolutionaries.
In Syria, however, there is no bastion to defend and no army to weaken. Assad is waging his war underground - everywhere and nowhere all at once. Bombs can hit a main district or political headquarters, but his torture chambers remain. Worse still, Nato's weapons would also inevitably injure civilians in densely populated Syria. For Assad, who paints the resistance fighters as enemies of the state, this could not be more convenient.
His revenge would be directed not only at the dissidents, but also at western protection forces - how easy it would be, for example, for the despot to retaliate against Israel. Furthermore, Assad would not have to attack Israel alone; the Lebanese hezbollah and Iran would be willing accomplices. A military strike against Syria would therefore not be without consequences - it could potentially plunge the entire region into chaos.
As a result, there is nothing more that the world can do than use strongly-worded language and attempt to isolate the despot. The arab league has already thrown out Assad, and the EU has also announced sanctions against him. Now it is up to the UN to convince Russia and China of the merits of a resolution. Assad will abdicate - it is only a matter of time. Bombs could expedite his fall, but they cannot protect the Syrian people.
Image: (cc) ssoosay/ flickr