For a period after the US-led intervention in Iraq, there was a lot of opinion to be heard to the effect that the doctrine of liberal or humanitarian intervention was now dead for at least a generation, maybe two. It had been killed by the Iraq war - even though most of those speaking of its death tended to think that this war hadn't been an instance of liberal or humanitarian intervention anyway. Still, dead it now surely was. Then, not even a decade on, came Libya. By 2011 intervention of the above-characterized kind was back in the news, with even some prominent opponents of the Iraq venture in favour.
Discussing the recent fortunes of the idea in the Globe and Mail, Doug Saunders now wonders if the experience of Libya and Syria might not have set back the idea of protective interventions, as envisaged under the doctrine of R2P, once again. Central to his hypothesis is the opposition of previously colonized countries like India, South Africa and Brazil to interventions led by former colonizers, this opposition sharpened by the fact that the Libyan intervention went beyond putting a halt to mass murder and led to regime change.
For my part I would suggest a counter-hypothesis to Doug's. The failure of outside powers to intervene in Syria has more to do with circumstances specific to the case than with permanent political changes following on the Libyan experience. When a situation arises where Western countries assess the balance of humanitarian urgency and military/political difficulty differently than they have over Syria, the prospects of liberal intervention will look different again. We have not, or not yet, witnessed a major and permanent alteration.