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Sarkozy ignites furor with push for foreign intervention in Syria

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who spearheaded air strikes in Libya, wants 'rapid' foreign intervention in Syria. Critics say the two conflicts are not remotely comparable.

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Calls to 'overturn wariness'

Yet Sarkozy, as in his Libya venture, can count on influential intellectuals here like Bernard-Henri Lévy, long a proponent of humanitarian intervention, and a leader in the French effort on Libya.

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"We need [British Prime Minister David] Cameron and Hollande to overturn this wariness and cowardice and prevent an impending massacre.” Mr. Lévy told Reuters today. “What is looming in Aleppo will be a disgrace which, if we do nothing, will be on our consciences for a long time.”

Today as well, former British foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind called for arming Syrian rebels, though did not support foreign intervention. Mr. Rifkind said his own support of a UN arms embargo on Yugoslavia in the early 1990s was mistaken, since it ended up helping Serbs (who had access to Yugoslav Army weapons) and harmed the Bosnian Muslims (who did not).

Samir Aita, a member of a Syrian opposition group that backs a secular future in that state, told the Monitor that “Libya had 100,000 dead and Syria could have hundreds of thousands more. Sarkozy in France will do for Syria what George W. Bush in America did for Iraq. The French must propose a solution, and while Hollande is preoccupied by the financial crisis in Europe, it needs to be workable.

“We need a cease-fire, not more weapons, since what we now see is a breakup into sectarian strife,” said Mr. Aita, who is also senior editor of Le Monde Diplomatique.

Questions about Sarkozy’s political motives are never far from the surface of policy discussions here. Some commentators note that prior to may elections, Sarkozy vowed that if defeated, he would disappear from public life and the French would never hear from him again.

“It seems that Sarkozy is still somewhat sour after his defeat at the presidential elections, and is using the highly emotional Syria issue to take a cheap shot at Hollande and undermine French diplomacy,” says Karim Emile Bitar of the Institute for Strategic and International Relations in Paris. “But the French have not forgotten Sarkozy’s long honeymoon with Assad and they know the enormous differences between Libya and Syria. Syria’s geostrategic positioning and its sectarian heterogeneity render foreign intervention extremely risky, not to mention the absence of a UN Security Council consensus."

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