Even if a NATO military intervention in Syria is unlikely, a similar bait-and-switch seems in the making with sanctions. The vetoed resolution hints at sanctions if the Syrian regime does not change its behavior, but Western leaders (including President Obama, after much hullaballoo on this subject in Washington) are talking about changing the regime, not just changing behavior. So the failure this week at the Security Council is partly a price Western governments are paying for two mistakes. One is a disingenuous resolution (and equally disingenuous rhetoric) about their intentions in Libya, and another is confusion about the purpose of sanctions (a topic I have addressed previously, with reference not only to Syria but to other target countries such as Iran).
Dan Drezner reminds us that, until recently, Syria was sanctioning itself:
Although the Assad regime has essentially declared war on much the Syrian population, there is one coveted demographic that they have yet to alienate — the business elites in Aleppo and Damascus. By and large the anti-Assad movement has yet to penetrate Syria's two largest cities. If sanctions could be designed to target those sectors of the population in particular, then the Syrian regime might feel its "selectorate" slipping away, undermining the regime even further. As it turns out, these kind of sanctions were imposed on Syria for a short spell. What's surprising is that it was the Syrian government that imposed them.