Opinion: Europe has also betrayed the Syrians | Opinion | DW | 26.10.2019

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Opinion: Europe has also betrayed the Syrians

US President Trump is not the only one who has failed Syria. Others, including his predecessor Barack Obama and the European Union have as well, says DW's Rainer Sollich.

How low can a US president go, in moral terms? First, Donald Trump betrays his Kurdish allies, abandoning them to the mercy of Turkish fighter-bombers and Turkish-funded jihadis. Many of them are massacred. Then he hypocritically praises a cease-fire, negotiated by Moscow and Ankara, which limits Erdogan's military invasion, but also legitimizes it — and simultaneously consolidates Bashar Assad's regime and his protecting power, Russia, as rulers of all of Syria. It clearly doesn't bother Trump that people are dying and an unjust regime is extending its dominion. He recently remarked laconically that the Kurds, too, were "no angels." It doesn't come much more cynical than that.

Read more: Nashville's Little Kurdistan community feels 'betrayed' by Trump 

Trump's cynicism

By hastily announcing the "departure" of the US military from Syria, it was Trump who put Moscow in the position of being able to threaten the Kurds with the prospect of being "crushed" by the Turkish army if they didn't withdraw their fighters and place themselves under Assad's "protection.” Bashar Assad is not simply one dictator among many in the region. He is more than just an "alleged" war criminal. For years now, he has proven to have absolutely no scruples about carpet-bombing entire residential areas in his own country, and the civilians who live there, with barrel bombs. Assad has been on the path to victory in Syria for some time, thanks not only to Russia but also to indecisive Western foreign policy. Even Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, recoiled from reining the dictator in.

Rainer Sollich

DW's Rainer Sollich

Now, with no less a degree of cynicism, we have Trump's latest about-face. Suddenly, a large number of US troops and — according to reports in the US media — possibly even tank divisions are to remain in northeastern Syria after all, to protect the oil fields there from so-caIled Islamic State (IS). Trump even had the effrontery to tweet: "Perhaps it is time for the Kurds to start heading to the Oil Region!" Is he now planning to offer them American protection after all? Or is it the other way round: Is he hoping US interests will once again be protected by guerrilla fighters with ties to the PKK?

Europe's failure

It is shocking to see with what cynicism, expressed in what is said and, particularly, in what is or is not done, the fate not only of the Kurds but effectively of the entire Syrian population is being decided. Not only Trump and Obama but also Europe, including key countries like Germany and France, are guilty of standing by for years as the killing in Syria went on, without developing a joint strategy to counter it or even seriously considering a military operation. Instead, they allowed Erdogan to blackmail them with the prospect of new "waves" of Syrian refugees and are still allowing him to do so. 

Watch video 02:22

Kurds abroad worry about loved ones left back in Syria

Like the Americans, Europe did nothing whatsoever to prevent Russia and Iran from systematically extending their influence in Syria and helping Assad regain his power. And now, when the "battle" — in which they never engaged — for European influence in Syria is essentially lost, they suddenly come up with trite ideas that have virtually no prospect of success. In particular: the suggestion by the German defense minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, which had not been properly discussed, either in Berlin or at a European level, that a robust UN brigade could be installed in northern Syria, with the involvement of Russia and Turkey. As if Moscow would ever allow the Europeans to be anything more in Syria than auxiliary troops in the service of its own interests.

Policies like this raise hopes among those affected — hopes that cannot be fulfilled. This, too, is cynical. It conceals the bitter truth, which is: The Europeans enjoy people's trust and have a good reputation in the region, but with their current situation, and without a strong American partner at their side, there is absolutely no way they can offer the Kurds or other ethnic groups in Syria security, or even military protection. At this point, the only person who can still do that is Vladimir Putin — if he wants to and if it fits with his own strategic calculations.

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