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Syria: Will France Lead the Way... Again?

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There were rumors before the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime that he moved his so called weapons of mass destruction to Syria, a nation not unfriendly to Iraq despite their leaders' religious divides.

If it were so, some of those weapons may have been used in alleged sarin gas attacks against Syrian rebel held areas. Sarin was the poison gas Saddam used against the Kurds and is considered a WMD http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-21814734 . However, it's known from various sources that Syria has its own nerve gas industry.

America isn't rushing into action over the escalating Syrian civil war until it's sure what it's up against. Where would such weapons come from and who is using them? It's not a stretch to guess there were used a local government commander or even some rebel forces.

But there are other more long-standing reasons why Syria is a different ball-game than the NATO action in Libya.

In Middle East terms Libya is in the boon docks of North Africa, a long way from the far more congested Fertile Crescent area of the Med. It's one thing bombing an isolated desert nation and another thing to risk widening a conflict close to the world's all important oil fields and trade routes.

And that's another major point: Syria isn't an oil producer, some of its neighbours are. America doesn't like to become involved in conflicts that have no benefit to America. But that's the way most nation's feel, i.e. Bosnia and Europe vs. Kuwait and Operation Desert Storm.

Besides, Syria has never been a pal of America. It was a key ally of the Soviet Union in the East-West regional power struggle, a relationship Russia has maintained.

If any non Muslim nation, other than Russia has clout there, it would be France, which controlled the country after WW1, yet made a hash of that when met by militant Arab nationalism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Mandate_for_Syria_and_Lebanon

But, it wouldn't be too difficult creating a no fly zone over Syria, with most of its neighbours happy to cooperate. The problem with this is the Syrian Air Force and Syrian anti aircraft missiles challenging NATO aircraft. And would such a zone be effective?

Several reported nerve gas factories may put pay to that plan. Without NATO troops on the ground, such factories almost certainly would fall into rebel hands...jihadist rebels.
And bombing such factories may carry the risk of spreading the gas into populated areas.

Such an eventuality might bring Israel into the conflict fearing it would be a jihadist target for the captured WMDs.

A main reason Bashar al-Assad will hang on to power as long as possible is knowing what will be in store for his minority Alawit clan when he and his military lose power. The same can be said of several other minorities in the country.

In this, Syria is similar to other Arab dictatorships such as Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Libya under Gaddafi, where minorities held power by integrating their own clansmen into the government and military.

A similar fate awaits Syria if and when Assad falls. The resulting chaos will be replaced by tribal conflict and more bloodshed. The civilized democratic voices in Syria that Foreign Secretary William Hague wants to embolden, will more than likely be drowned out by the Islamist shouts and gunfire.

And again the big worry: What will these groups do with captured weaponry and possible poison gas.

So what to do? Since the US lead the way in ending the Balkan war as well as leading the way into both Iraq conflicts and is the major player in Afghanistan, it has no desire to become involved in another conflict...unless it has no other option. It may be left for France to perform a encore of its lead into Libya and more recently Mali.

The French should come up with a plan, seek NATO support, and begin its operation. This would force America's hand at not wanting to be seen deserting its oldest ally....another "special relationship" one might say.

The big question then is: What would the French do?