Gideon Rachman
November 25, 2011

Just a couple of months ago, the idea of foreign military intervention in Syria was regarded as all but unthinkable. But now important people are indeed thinking – and talking – about it. The latest is Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, who has spoken of the idea of establishing “humanitarian zones” to protect civilians. This sounds like a strictly limited idea. But, as the Chinese and Russians would swiftly remind us, the Libyan war started as a limited intervention to protect civilians – and morphed into regime change.

The Syrian crisis is making for unlikely bedfellows. Alongside France, the country that is most actively thinking about intervention in Syria is Turkey. But the Erdogan government in Turkey loathes the French government – and suggested that France’s motives in intervening in Libya were less than pure.

However, the increasingly appalling behaviour of the Assad regime has now driven Turkey into an increasingly militant position on Syria. The position of Erdogan himself – as is often the case with him – is coloured by a sense of personal betrayal and his own emotional character. The Turkish leader once went out of his way to cultivate Assad – and even went on holiday with him. Now Erdogan is comparing Assad to Hitler. Privately, the Turks say that serious consideration is being given to setting up humanitarian safe areas, which might involve Turkish troops crossing the border into Syria. The fact that the Arab League has now turned on Assad – as it once turned on Gaddafi – would also make it easier for foreign intervention to take place.

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