Putting pressure on Syria
A few weeks back French President Nicolas Sarkozy held a late-night press conference in Brussels. He was in expansive form. He claimed that because of military intervention thousands of lives had been saved in Benghazi in Libya.
One questioner asked the French president why it was right to intervene in Libya and not elsewhere. He replied that nowhere else in the Arab upheaval was the army turning its firepower on its own citizens.
I was reminded of this when I saw the picture of a T-72 tank heading into the Syrian town of Deraa. It could be that Bashar al-Assad will prove as brutal and ruthless as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
Getting international agreement to squeeze the Syrian leader may well prove much harder than against the Libyan leader. There was a foretaste of that at the UN yesterday when Britain, France, Germany and Portugal failed to win support for a statement condemning the violence.
Tomorrow the EU's political and security committee will discuss further measures. The German government, for one, strongly supports sanctions. Washington is working on sanctions which will target Assad, his family and the inner circle that effectively runs the country.
Turkey is pivotal. It has forged a strong relationship with Syria. It has urged Damascus to back reform and has even offered economic assistance in sharp contrast to Europeans edging towards sanctions.
But applying pressure on the regime has proved a slow burn.
Firstly, the West had invested hope in President Assad. He was seen as a more flexible leader than his icily ruthless father. For a while Western governments had given him the benefit of the doubt that - in the face of protest - he would support reform. Up until a few days ago UK Foreign Secretary William Hague was saying: "It is not too late for him [Assad] to say he is really going to do these reforms.'
Secondly, there is debate as to the extent to which Assad himself is running the country or whether some of the security officials who served his father are still the power behind the throne.
Thirdly, military action is not seen as an option even by those who have been most robust over Libya. Senator John McCain, for example, sounded distinctly lukewarm about the military option.
The main reason is that Syria is pivotal in the Middle East. The allies of Damascus have the ability to destabilise the region. The Americans believe that Assad could appeal to Iran for assistance. And Hezbollah - another ally - could undermine the fragile peace in Lebanon or threaten Israel. Interestingly, at the UN Lebanon was one of the countries that refused to condemn Syria.
So the slow march towards sanctions. But Damascus has far more allies than Gaddafi. What European countries and others are watching most closely is whether splits are opening up within the ruling Baath party and within the military where the officers tend to be Alawites and the troops Sunni Muslims.
A few days ago President Sarkozy spoke about Syria. The tone was very different to Libya. "We are not going to intervene everywhere in the world," he said,
"and not all situations are necessarily the same." Over Syria outrage is tempered by caution and realpolitik.