The 22-month-long civil war in Syria dominated the agenda at the Munich Security Conference. Top diplomats could agree on one point: There's little chance that the conflict will end any time soon.
The remarks made by UN-Arab League special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi (pictured in above photo, right) in Munich over the weekend gave the impression that he is hoping for nothing less than a political miracle for Syria. While encouraging the world to not give up hope for the war-torn country, Brahimi also warned that it's important to not be naïve. Yet, the UN envoy is pinning his efforts on the Security Council once again, although the body has failed for to act for nearly two years.
But perhaps there simply is no other option at this time, given the reality that the regime of President Bashar Assad still refuses to talk with the opposition and apparently cannot be convinced to act otherwise.
With information leaking and rumors circulating about Brahimi's latest embargoed report to the Security Council, the UN envoy decided to reveal some details to the public. In the text, he calls on the members of the Security Council to come together once again to discuss Syria. If they cannot agree to condemn the regime, then they should use the June 2012 Geneva Declaration as their point of reference.
According to Brahimi, the Geneva Declaration has the charm of "ambiguity." It calls for the formation of a new government that is acceptable to all the belligerent parties in Syria. Brahimi has only limited confidence that both sides will be able to agree on a government. But as the UN envoy said, "one has to have some kind of hope."
At the moment, the international community has blocked itself in the Security Council. And by failing to act, the world is indirectly supporting the regime, according to Moaz al-Khatib, the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition.
Indeed, Damascus' scorched-earth campaign continues undisturbed: 60,000 Syrians have died in the conflict; 40 percent of the country's infrastructure has been destroyed; more than three million houses are now uninhabitable. Thousands of Syrians are currently languishing in jails, and targeted attacks against civilians continue. Long lines of people waiting in front of bakeries have been cut down by mortars from regime troops. Even school children have been targeted by the regime.
Despite all of that, Khatib is seeking dialogue with the Assad regime, under the condition that all political prisoners are released. That could be a first step toward a political solution. But Khatib warned that if the regime does not take his offer, then the Syrian civil war would have an increasingly negative effect on the entire region.
"We Syrians love life," Khatib said. "But we are not afraid of death."
The role of Iran
With the situation in Syria deteriorating by the day, nobody was applauding the statements made by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, who said a political solution needed more time. According to Salehi, Tehran has spoken with the opposition and welcomes a peaceful resolution of the conflict. History will decide who was right and who was wrong, he said.
In any case, the Islamic Republic says that the Syrians should decide the political fate of their country for themselves. "They don't need any instructions from outside," Salehi said. But Ruprecht Polenz, the chairman of the German parliament's foreign affairs committee, asked a question that remained answered: Why then is Iran supporting the regime with weapons?
Feeling of helplessness
A feeling of helplessness overshadowed the Munich Security Conference. Out of desperation, new proposals were made that are also highly problematic. Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, said that if Russia uses its veto again in the Security Council, then the body could be bypassed. But Roth's proposal contradicts UN envoy Brahimi's continued reliance on the Security Council.
US Senator John McCain made an unconventional proposal. Disregarding all previous assurances that the NATO Patriot rocket batteries in Turkey were defensive in character, McCain proposed using these weapon systems to shoot down Syrian warplanes. The senator said that the batteries have a range that reaches to Aleppo. He suggested that the Patriot rockets be used to set up a safe zone and win back the trust of the Syrian people.
Fears of extremism
The Syrian people's lack of trust in the West could create major problems in the future. McCain said that he spoke with a teacher in a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey, who swore revenge on those who did not help the Syrian people.
The US senator expressed concern that this teacher might represent a trend. McCain said that he anticipates growing extremism in Syria and in the entire region, an assessment that nearly all of the participants in the discussion panel on Syria shared.
There's not much to hope for in Syria right now. Wolfgang Ischinger, the chairman of the Munich conference, offered a glimmer of hope. He said that in the backrooms, real-time diplomacy was taking place, and that could lead to new political opportunities.
But diplomacy is a discrete business. And no news leaked out of the backrooms during the conference. The darkness in Damascus - so it seems - casts its long shadow all the way to Munich these days.