′Hard to see what good the attacks in Syria have done′ | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 26.11.2015
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'Hard to see what good the attacks in Syria have done'

On the day Germany announced plans to begin reconnaissance flights in Syria, David Cameron asked parliament to expand Britain's mission. The European Council on Foreign Relations' Nick Witney doesn't see much benefit.

DW: On Wednesday, Germany announced that it would send reconnaissance jets to Syria to help its European partners in their fight against self-styled "Islamic State" (IS or ISIS) militants. Shortly before, British Prime Minister David Cameron gave an impassioned speech to the House of Commons calling for Britain to expand its strikes. There has already been a long military campaign against IS - what do new measures mean?

Nick Witney: In practical terms, I don't think the extra airstrikes that will come from the British and the French, perhaps assisted by German reconnaissance and whatever else Germany decides to provide - I'm not sure that will have a huge impact on the ground.

There were already several countries engaged in airstrikes in Syria before the attacks in Paris on November 13. Are the airstrikes achieving whatever their original goal was?

It's hard to see what good the attacks in Syria have done over the last year or so. I mean the Americans in Syria are not short of airpower and it's very difficult to believe that a few more British bombs or indeed French bombs can make a critical difference, and indeed Cameron today in the House was very clear that he's now understood that this war cannot be won from the air. We're going to need ground forces and some of the military action that Western powers have taken in Iraq in support of ground forces. That's a very different position in a dynamic battlefield situation, like retaking Sinjar, where the Kurds retook Sinjar from ISIS - there, airpower can make a decisive difference and it seems to me effective to use it.

Nick Witney

Nick Witney is the co-director of the European Power program at the European Council on Foreign Relations

What has not been attempted enough?

I think some of the smartest things that have been said about this have been said by Hillary Clinton, who is not a pussycat, but she said ultimately this is not our war to win: This war is for the Arabs and the Turks to win. And she's gone on to say that it's about time they started acting on it.

I'm afraid that the more that Western powers take military action against ISIS, effective military action, ineffective military action, the more excuse it gives to the regional powers - the Turks the Saudis, the Iranians, everybody else who is theoretically opposed to ISIS but not in too much of a hurry to get rid of ISIS - the more excuse Western action gives these guys just to sit back. And this is not ultimately going to be sorted out until the regional powers, regional Muslim powers who can speak with authority to Muslim populations, conclude that, you know, enough is enough and this particular bunch of murderous fanatics have to be suppressed. So, to be a little more optimistic, the Vienna process of two weeks ago suggests that maybe this realization is beginning to percolate through.

What type of impact do you think it might have? Several countries have already deployed their militaries to Syria and there are several factions fighting in the civil war.

David Cameron turned in a very strong political performance, and it seems to me quite clear that next week the British will vote to start bombing in Syria, so we have an increasing number of European countries becoming associated directly, indirectly with the campaign against ISIS in Syria, and I personally see this as dangerous and highly likely to be counterproductive. I think it will only feed the jihadist narrative that this is crusaders, Western powers, seeking to crush the Muslim caliphate.

What have any of us done during four years while (President Bashar) Assad dropped barrel bombs on Muslims in Aleppo, but now we're all very ready to do our bit to drop bombs on true believers in Raqqa, and I think that this will boost ISIS's chances of recruiting and their propaganda and the narrative, which is what they really survive by. So I think it's counterproductive. I also think and fear that it will raise the risks on the streets of Britain. In fact, I can't see how it will not after Sinai and Paris in particular - these seemed like very clear acts of retaliation, and I'm very concerned that this may happen in Britain.

All that said, I mean I can understand why our governments want to do this. France has appealed for solidarity, and this is one way of showing solidarity, and that's important. I wish we'd chosen smarter ways of showing solidarity. When the defense minister invoked (Lisbon Treaty) article 42.7 and discussed with his colleagues last week in Brussels what help he wanted, he said, "This is important: Help us in Syria or help us in our other deployments, in Africa." And I happen to think we could all be more profitably deployed doing what we can to stabilize the very difficult countries of the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa, where half the migrant flow comes from, but of course that's not the political agenda at the moment.

How have the Paris attacks and the civil war in Syria distracted from other issues facing Europe?

It's understandable that we're totally focused on Syria at the moment - of course we are. But the refugee crisis is huge for us, and about half the problem is what comes out of Africa, and if Syria were to be solved tomorrow we would still have a major European refugee crisis. It would bear on Germany, I suppose, a little less directly, but they'd still be flooding into Italy and across the Mediterranean, and that will go on for a generation unless we take more active steps to help Africa try to stabilize itself.

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