Some Syrian opposition members claim to have been betrayed by Western governments:
“You provoke the people to rebel against the regime and then you stay away,” an activist named Mahmoud observed acidly, referring to the Western states that have called for Mr Assad to step down.
This is not entirely unfair, but it confuses cause and effect. Western governments did not initially encourage regime opponents to rise up against Assad. While the Libyan war was still being fought, the leading intervening governments were careful to rule out military action against the Syrian government. Perhaps they were being mindful of the disastrous mistake of the first Bush administration to encourage uprisings in Iraq that it had no intention of backing militarily, or perhaps they were simply unwilling to take on another commitment, but for most of last year Western governments were not provoking Syrians to rebellion. As opposition to the regime continued and armed rebellion began, Western governments offered some encouraging rhetoric, but it was still not tied to any promise of support. It would be wrong to promise support and then fail to provide it, and it would be atrocious to encourage a rebellion only to abandon the rebels to their fate, but Western governments for the most part have done neither of these things, at least not directly.
Nonetheless, some parts of the Syrian opposition evidently believed that foreign intervention was bound to follow as violence in Syria worsened. Libya may not provide a model for intervening in Syria, but that distinction is likely to be lost on Syrian regime opponents that just saw the U.S. and several members of NATO wage a war that resulted in Gaddafi’s overthrow and death. Providing false hope to opposition movements elsewhere around the world was one of the things that war opponents warned about in the first months of the Libyan war. There was a danger that some opposition movement elsewhere would conclude that the best way to trigger foreign intervention was to engage the regime in an armed struggle that it could not possibly win on its own. The opposition would do this in order to create the conditions that they hoped would compel foreign governments to step in, but this takes for granted that outside governments will respond to each conflict in the same way when that isn’t the case.