Opinion: Unbearable helplessness in Syria | Opinion | DW | 05.10.2016
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Opinion: Unbearable helplessness in Syria

As the saying goes, hope dies last. Given the clearly conflicting interests of the forces taking part in the Syria war, no solution is on the horizon at the moment, writes DW's editor-in-chief, Alexander Kudascheff.

The war, the killing and the dying goes on relentlessly in Syria. It is a war that has still not bled out, even in its fifth year. This is war being waged with inconceivable cruelty, primarily at the expense of the population, which is already being held hostage by all sides. And now, the last hope of containing the war - and perhaps even ending it - through negotiations between the Americans and Russians has died. The communication lines between Moscow and Washington have broken down and the last glimmer of hope has thus been extinguished.

No prospects of compromise

The failure of the talks - as one is not certain whether they can be called negotiations - was foreseeable. Negotiations are based on the capability of perceiving the interests of the other party and comparing them with one's own to see whether a deal can be struck. How were the Syria talks conducted? The Russians have one overwhelming interest: They want to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power and come into play as a global force that is once again a weighty influencer in the Middle East. To Russia, any means, especially military means, justifies the end. Assad obviously wants to stay in power and is not at all interested in compromise, because any compromise would herald the end of his political career. Turkey does not want a Kurdish state to be established. Iran would like to expand Shiite domination; Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, wants to prevent it. They are all against "Islamic State" (IS) whenever it suits their political or military aims.

Kudascheff Alexander Kommentarbild App

DW Editor-in-Chief Alexander Kudascheff

And what does the West, and above all the United States, want? It is interested in ending the war, especially on moral grounds, and wants the slaughtering, the massacres and airstrikes to stop. But what does the US want politically? Does it want a Syria with its old borders? Does it want to keep Assad? Does it want a Kurdish state? Does it want to enter into a political discussion with Iran? Does it fully or half-heartedly acknowledge Iran's geopolitical position? Is it willing to call out Saudi Arabia - until now a stabilizing factor on the West's side - as a haven of Salafism, despite the economic and political consequences? Should the US support the royal family in Riyadh? Merely the fact that Congress passed a law permitting the victims of 9/11 to file charges against Saudi Arabia, thereby overriding President Barack Obama's veto, shows that Saudi Arabia can no longer feel at home as a partner in Washington. This is a case in which morality prevails over national interests. So in the end, a half-hearted interest in the war remains: the fight against IS.

To add to it all, Obama has reached the final phase of his term and is practically a lame duck. Now it is evident that he has consistently moved away from the US global policing role. Obama does not want any more US military intervention, even though sometimes it may make sense strategically. Almost unnoticed, he has led the US to a foreign policy of restraint. The Russians were the first to try to fill the vacuum; even Obama, though, contemptibly but erroneously derided them as a regional power. With Putin's steely determination, Russia has begun to reclaim global power. Moscow is determined to continue on this path with all means at its disposal. Washington has lost the plot at the point where the restraint begins.

Deadlock until the US elections

The international power struggle will continue after the new American president has been elected. In the meantime, one cannot ignore the fact that Putin is taking swift action in Syria. However, Moscow will recall that its military and political involvement in Afghanistan was initially successful before the Soviets were weakened and had to leave the country as losers. What will happen to Syria if Russia's and Assad's military forces are successful? Will it become a deathly silent Middle Eastern Chechnya? Or will it become a Middle Eastern Afghanistan that will descend into the chaos of everyday terror? The West must immediately decide on a containment policy, but no one seems to be anywhere near such a decision. Right now, it looks like the West will have to resort to standing by helplessly and watching people get killed in Syria. Then the war will really become morally unbearable.

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