Opinion: The West′s total failure | Opinion | DW | 15.08.2016
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Opinion

Opinion: The West's total failure

The situation in Aleppo appears increasingly hopeless. This civil war is on the brink of its greatest humanitarian disaster. But there's not much the West can do on its own, writes DW's Loay Mudhoon.

When the siege around eastern Aleppo was surprisingly broken two weeks ago, there was no notable improvement for the civilian population. The insurgents may have defeated the Assad regime and its Russian protecting power, but in fact up to 300,000 people are still trapped in Aleppo.

The supply situation is dire: 1.5 million people have no electricity, no clean drinking water. The biggest humanitarian catastrophe of the Syrian civil war looms.

It's highly appreciated that German Development Minister Gerd Müller has sounded the alarm, demanding more aid from the EU for the victims of the war. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says it might even become neccessary to set up an "air bridge" to supply the people of Aleppo.

The price of idleness

In view of this new dimension of suffering, there's no doubt that these demands are as important as they are justified. At the same time, they show how limited the West's options have become to influence current developments.

To noticeably ease the besieged population's hardship, it would take a cease-fire lasting several days, or the end of all fighting - in particular after the creation of safe corridors turned out to be staged by Russia and the Assad regime.

Loay Mudhoon

Loay Mudhoon is the editor in chief of Qantara.de

Diplomatic appeals won't be enough to push through such demands. And that's the dilemma. Put more bluntly: the West's total failure lies in the fact that decisionmakers in Washington and Brussels decided early on not to intervene militarily in Syria, but instead to "let the conflict bleed out," as one western diplomat so cynically put it.

By the time it became clear that Bashar al-Assad's violent regime had allowing what started as a peaceful revolution to become militarized, and was working to split society along religious lines, the West should have more vigorously supported the opposition in order to prevent radical Islamists from moving into the power void.

While Assad received massive backing from Russia, Iran and Shiites in Lebanon and Iraq, the West failed to come up with a joint Syria policy. This inertia, in particular the Obama administration's watering down of the "red line doctrine" after poison gas was used in the conflict, led to the West's massive loss of credibility and assertiveness in this conflict.

Putin, the kingmaker

So, what should the West do? The question is difficult to answer.

It all depends on Vladimir Putin's political goals. When he intervened a year ago, the Russian president turned the military tide in Assad's favor: his regime has meanwhile stabilized, also thanks to the Lebanese Hezbollah and Shiite militia. A political solution for the complex proxy war in Syria against Moscow's wishes appears impossible.

Diplomatic appeals won't be enough to get Putin to relent. The head of the Kremlin is out to demonstrate power, also as a signal to the West with regard to Ukraine. He has clear goals in Syria, with hardly a thought for the Syrian people's plight and the massive destruction of their country.

The regional powers aren't in any condition to critically influence the war, either. The Arab Sunnis are too weak and unable to coordinate their regional policies. Turkey has turned its attention inward since the failed coup, and is in no way interested in endangering its newly reactivated ties to Russia - another reason why Ankara has remained silent on the massacres in Aleppo.

The conflict's current constellation can only shift once the US government drastically changes its policies on Assad and his protective powers in Moscow and sheds its pretended powerlessness.

But the election campaign has virtually paralyzed US foreign policies, which gives Putin a free hand in Syria until the end of the year. Europe will feel the effects of his cynical policies.

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