Following a UN Mandated no-fly-zone over Libya to protect Libyans from Col. Gaddafi's air force which subsequently led on to a 'lead behind'
strategy by predominately NATO forces which then saw western air power (in a latent manner similar to how the U.S and the Northern Alliance worked together to capture Kabul in 2001) aid the Libyan rebels in their arduous fight from being nearly laid siege to in Benghazi to liberating Tripoli with little resistance.
People whom argue for such an intervention in Syria
seem to have that seemingly swift victory fresh in their minds. The impression being that like the perceived case in Libya, various rebel factions who may have the silent support of the majority are battling an already embattled dictator. Western air power can soften up the dictators means of armed coercion and lead to the euphoria that comes with ripping down said dictators various personality cult paraphernalia. Although unlike Baghdad in 2003 where U.S troops dismantled the statue of Saddam the Syrian people will follow this new trend of liberating themselves.
I personally have despised this dictator as well as his ghastly father for as long as I knew anything about them, and feel little more than contempt for those who actually regurgitated the rhetorical nonsense about him being any sort of a reformer. It also brings a sickening feeling to ones stomach when one sees the actions he is committing against his only people, and of course one would welcome regime change and the establishment of a tangible democratic foundation instead of civil war. However that does not mean one should negate from weighing the consequences of an armed western intervention.
In his book Republic of Fear
which detailed the inner workings of the dictatorial Iraqi Baathist apparatus author Kanan Makiya quoted a television interview with former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcoft. Following the 1991 Persian Gulf War in which a United States led coalition of nearly a million soldiers faced down the Iraqi Army and drove it out of Kuwait following an extensive bombing campaign. Shortly after the ceasefire that ended that war an uprising in the Shiite south of the country was brutally put down by loyalist Baathist forces utilizing heavy weaponry and helicopter gunships. In the interview Makiya refers to Scowcoft states they (the administration) were favouring a coup. Makiya elaborates by explaining how the Baathist system in Iraq was designed to be 'coup proof', essentially proving his fundamental point that the United States at that time possessed little overall standing of how the dictatorial system functioned.
In Syria we may be facing a similar situation, the system is (although a rival to the former Iraqi Baathist state) Baathist, it functions in a similar overall way, a minority rules over a majority. In Syria about 250,000 people make up the Alawite clan, whilst the nearly 74% are Sunni Muslims. As was the case in Saddam's Iraq Assad gives senior positions in the military to loyal Alwaites and Baathists
, ensuring that the security apparatus can oppress even a clear majority of a rebelling populace.
The Syrian Army still has tremendous force at its disposal, and whilst some in its lower ranks may defect or attempt to conscientiously object Assad's regime will still have tremendous force at its disposal, as well as the means to bring about abject destruction and sow instability, in his own country and in neighbouring Lebanon and Israel. If the U.S and/or its western allies were to intervene in Syria these are factors they will have to bear in mind and be prepared for, as will Israel have to be prepared for attacks it may experience from Hezbollah forces
in Lebanon and from Syrian forces on the Golan Heights.
There is little doubt that western military forces can and will relatively quickly be able to effective neutralize Assad's ability to project significant military force beyond the borders he is confined to (hence destroying the Syrian Air Force, the arsenal of missiles etc.), however this could reap devastating destruction upon the country's infrastructure as well as bring repercussions on the Israelis and possibly the Turks if NATO forces use military facilities in Turkey or even if Turkey does participate in such an operation.
There is also no telling on how this will go down with the wider populace, a case of accidental “collateral damage” could sway public opinion against the outside forces very quickly and result in the regime getting more support. Analysts who support intervention often reference previous no-fly-zones, most recently and blatantly in Libya, and before then in Bosnia and Iraq. In each case western air power was used to stop ruthless dictators from indiscriminately butchering civilians. So far in Syria Assad's forces have not employed extensive air power to put down its own insurrection, instead they're relying on tanks, artillery or just handheld machine guns to put down the rebel forces, intervention against this kind of action would require a lot of extensive bombing, even if it is precision bombing it may prove calamitous and could ignite the wider region into destructive war as well as turn the vast amount of undecided Syrians against the foreign backed rebels and behind Assad instigating an even wider and more destructive civil war. In the ensuing chaos we will likely see Al-Qaeda forces (among others) capitalizing on the ever more dire situation.
Of course the International Community needs to pressure Assad for his actions, the nature of his clampdown and the atrocities being committed by his forces. But at this time armed intervention would be regressive to the wider and deteriorating crisis in Syria.
An intervention may require going all the way, hence like in Iraq in 2003 which would mean actually sending ground forces in to temporarily occupy the country. A vague Libyan like 'lead behind' intervention which many calling for intervention are alluding to more than likely only be a hollow half measure and is unlikely to lead to justice for the majority of the Syrian people.