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The revolutions that have swept across the Arab world this year have raised debates about the extent to which Western powers should intervene. Libyan rebels are taking over the last Gadhafi strongholds, but fighting rages on in other countries as people seek to topple oppressive regimes.

Protesters in Syria began resisting President Bashar al-Assad’s rule six months ago, a struggle that has killed more than 2,200 people. Unlike Libya, which saw military intervention by NATO and other outsiders, protesters in Syria have insisted that there be no foreign influence during the revolution up until this point. But, as the government intensifies its brutal crackdown on dissenters, thousands of Syrian protesters have begun to call for outside help.

This does not mean they are hoping for military action; rather, according to the Associated Press, “they are largely calling for observation missions and human rights monitors who could help deter attacks on civilians.” Assad has ignored earlier pleas to observe human rights, however, so the international community must decide how to most effectively respond to Syrians’ calls for help.

Since Assad still has the loyalty and support of the armed forces, the protesters have been facing a brutal, bloody assault. The violence has often been indiscriminately directed at civilians. On Wednesday, security forces killed several people who lived in an area that had been opposing Assad. Human Rights Watch even reported that the regime is removing patients from a hospital and preventing doctors from reaching those wounded in the fighting.

There is no doubt that the Assad regime has been brutally killing Syrians; the murkier debate is how the international community should respond. So far, foreign groups and governments have tried to put economic pressure on Assad’s government. The European Union has already banned imports of Syrian crude oil and is moving toward banning investment in Syria’s oil industry. The United States has already implemented these measures, as well as freezing all Syrian assets. Nonetheless, the violence continues.

The Obama doctrine has been generally regarded as successful throughout the Arab revolutions, since the United States has been able to support democratic uprisings without full-scale military efforts. But as Syrian protesters call for international help and Assad intensifies his crackdown, the president faces a tough decision.

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