That's pretty much right. Weeks of shelling of Homs, particularly the Baba Amr neighborhood of that city that was a stronghold for anti-Assad insurgents and the activists working with them, have killed scores. Satellite images purchased and analyzed by Human Rights Watch show mortar and rocket strikes on well over 100 buildings in the densely packed neighborhood. And reports from activists have claimed that since the opposition Free Syrian Army was routed from the city last week, opposition supporters have been massacred in the streets and tortured in detention centers.
I was in Benghazi the morning last year that French planes, later joined by British, US, and other NATO airpower, stopped Muammar Qaddafi's march on the city cold and began the process of turning the tide in favor of his opponents. Everything I've read and seen coming out of Homs in recent weeks jibes with what I expected would have been Benghazi's fate if NATO had not come to the Libyan rebellion's aid.
But unfortunately for Syria's opposition, the international cavalry is not coming any time soon. Nearly a year into the war to oust Assad, the Syrian army remains largely intact. In the case of Libya, there were mass defections from Qaddafi's forces within days of protests breaking out against his rule. And the Libyan army of Qaddafi was far less capable than Syria's army under Assad. Its forces were not as well-trained, as well-led, or as well-armed.
If air power were to be used against Assad's regime as it was used to overthrow Qaddafi's, then the venture will take longer than the six months it took in Libya. The price in Syrian blood, on both sides will be higher, and the geography of the country -- without the vast stretches of desert between towns that were turned into shooting galleries when Qaddafi tried to move his forces -- would guarantee more civilian casualties from NATO bombs than occurred in Libya.
And though some are suggesting that civilian protections zones be carved out, and suggest that as a panacea, fighting will have to be done to accomplish that (Peter Munson, a skeptic on intervention in Syria, looks at some of the risks). Finally, Russia and China have vowed to stand in the way of UN Security Council authorization to act, instead of standing aside, as they did in the case of Libya.