Germany at the Heart of the Syrian War

The Syrian war has begun its European phase and German guilt for the Holocaust is playing a predominant role. Germany can’t possibly take-in all the migrants but it is willing to welcome a very large contingent. But this is not true of the rest of Europe. As hundreds of thousands of Syrians stream toward Europe and Germany, fears of an ever present xenophobic nationalist backlash have divided Europe once again. Much of Europe still suffers from massive unemployment. Many European nations simply can’t handle the economic load. The European imbalance in economic growth has caused a new and divisive fault line across the EU. This is all happening in the wake of the Greek bail-out debacle, but as a humanitarian crisis deepens, this new division has ushered in dark memories of past European moral failures. Yet who is to say how many ISIS sleeper cells are imbedded within this massive Syrian exodus from the Middle East. And don’t average European citizens have a right to be afraid?

Jews are fleeing France and heading for Israel. ISIS sympathy is high within certain sectors of the large European Muslim community. And the Jews of Europe have already paid a high price. But the influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrians into Europe makes a mockery of both German and French security and foreign policy. For seven years now, the EU establishment (with Germany and France at its core) has dutifully followed the lead of an American president, who has bent over backwards not to antagonize the Iranian leadership. Obama has been hell-bent on keeping Assad of Syria and Hezbollah of Lebanon in power. This has been a devastating mistake for all concerned. This policy has led to an Iranian nuclear deal that within ten years (if it even lasts that long) will allow Tehran to become a nuclear threshold state with a breakout time of mere days. But equally as bad has been the negative reaction to the policy and its ramifications in Israel and at the very center of the Arab world.

Assad and Iran have become disasters for the Levant and their continued presence within Syria and Lebanon have now morphed into a major refugee crisis not seen since the end of WWII. But the division of Europe between NATO and Russia has meant that a unified position on Syria at the UN Security Council has not been possible. Russia’s support for Assad is merely tactical. It’s a response to the artificial military division of the European continent aimed directly at Moscow. This division is a remnant of the old Cold War, yet it also has a distinct Obama policy failure cast within it. The crisis of the Ukraine and Crimea cannot be separated from White House mischief and the huge failure of the Obama Russian reset policy. Hence the failure of Washington, Paris and Berlin to achieve any kind of cooperation with Moscow over the war in Syria. But with the intensification of the Syrian civil war and its crucial regional Middle East dimension, the consequences of this war have now spread to the very heart of Europe itself.

Let me make myself perfectly clear: What is required to stem the Syrian refugee crisis is a huge dose of hope toward a UN Security Council understanding on the future of Syria. Only such an understanding can save Syria from complete dismemberment. And such an understanding will require a military dimension. UN airpower and especially blue helmets will be needed. But it is Germany and France who must take the lead. Only they have the power to redress the major overriding division within the European continent — the NATO exclusion of Russia from an otherwise all-European security system. Without a new all-European security system inclusive of Russia, UN cooperation on Syria will remain impossible.

Germany does not want to see a return of the pre-WWII ancien regime. Yet the prospects of the Euro and the EU are hardly appealing to many of her neighbors in Europe. Keynesian economic monetary proliferation hasn’t worked and its replacement with an alternative (higher interest rates?) has the world’s financial markets in a near panic. Economics has turned out NOT to be the answer for a new German position in Europe following on its Nazi past. But quietism in the face of US NATO expansion and an Iran rapprochement policy that has turned the Middle East into a failed region is hardly a foreign policy worthy of Germany’s own national interest. The same is true for France. The institutions of the post-WWII era are now failing in the 21st century. For Europeans, the current refugee crisis has become a barometer of a failed American leadership adrift without any new policy ideas, either for Europe or the Middle East.

Just look at the two US political parties and their electioneering foreign policy prescriptions. The Democrats are near isolationist, while the Republicans want to dominate nearly the entire world map. Neither of these policies will lead to peace. The NATO promise to its new members is certainly under question by the Democratic Party’s tepid response in the aftermath of the Russian push-back over the coup in the Ukraine. Meanwhile the Republicans favor an arming of the Ukraine, most likely leading to their inclusion within NATO. One policy leads to continued friction and stalemate, while the other could very easily lead to a major war on the continent.

With the Democrats in power, Syria and Iran can expect more of the same kid’s glove treatment, because any attempt to sanction Tehran over its regional policy role will be interpreted as a breach of the nuclear agreement. The Iranian supreme leader has now taken that very same position on sanctions (his statement of September 3rd 2015). This will mean that the Syrian war will continue to grind on and the refugee crisis will worsen. Republican solutions on Iran will most certainly involve war and very likely lead to a counter Russian and\or Chinese response. Such a response could be in Europe.

Only international cooperation can solve world problems. France and Germany must take an independent position in order to achieve a proper security structure for Europe. With the prospect of such a structure on the horizon, the future of a Syria and Lebanon without Iranian missiles, guns and personnel can also come into focus. As far as the nuclear deal with Iran is concerned, it is deeply flawed because it doesn’t have a regional component and it leaves Iran as a threshold nuclear power.

In the final analysis, all of the Middle East will either go nuclear or a Zone of Peace leading to a nuclear-weapons-free zone will be established. There are no other solutions. Such a plan has been described many times in this blog. With the entire UN Security Council on board, the current Iran nuclear deal could become an interim project leading to a nuclear-free Middle East. Only Germany and France can create a vision for Europe in the 21st century inclusive of the Russians. And without the Russians, both an Iranian roll-back from Lebanon and the Syrian war will be impossible to resolve.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).