SYRIAN DILEMMA

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  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Berlin traditionally prefers to stay out of international conflicts, but seems to have changed its tune with the approval of a deployment to Syria.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Germany’s parliament on Friday backed the country’s Syria mission, with 445 lawmakers voting in favor, 146 voting against and seven abstaining.
    • The vote follows a cabinet decision this week to deploy reconnaissance jets, refueling aircraft, a frigate and up to 1,200 military personnel in the fight against Islamic State terrorists.
    • British jets bombed IS sites in Syria on Wednesday after the U.K. parliament authorized airstrikes there.
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Source: Patrick Pleul/DPA
Source: Patrick Pleul/DPA

Pandering to voters’ fears isn’t going to solve the problems in the Middle East, Guttenberg says. Source: Patrick Pleul/DPA

 

A mandate for another international operation is being rushed through parliament at breakneck speed. Germany plans to send up to 1,200 soldiers into one of the most complex conflicts on earth, as well as Tornado jets, a frigate, air tankers and satellite reconnaissance, all as a contribution to – what exactly?

Combating terror? Resolving civil war? Establishing a new order in the Middle East? Ending the flood of refugees to Europe? A little of everything, but no more than that. But also no less, because all questions are very closely interconnected. And none are in Germany’s hands alone.

Wouldn’t we be better advised to retreat into our default mode of staying out of things, leaning back with a self-satisfied sense of virtue?

After all, to expect sustainable success in the short-term is hardly realistic. Few things will work immediately. The conflicts in Syria and the Middle East are too complex for that, and the participants’ agendas far too different.

Nothing is more effective for the ideologists of Islamic terror than a nation that reneges on its solidarity with friends because it is afraid.

To call the legal basis for operations in Syria and Iraq “fuzzy” would be a massive understatement. And, as is so often the case, a substantial debate about the many dimensions of this commitment is not taking place due to the ambitious time schedule.

And let’s not kid ourselves: As long as Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad remains in office under the protection of Russia, any nation that gets involved will have to directly cooperate with Damascus. That is, unless we come up with a better euphemism for the necessary military coordination already required to safeguard our soldiers in the air and at sea. Anything else would be a sham.

Will Germany’s involvement in Syria increase the danger of an attack here? In all probability, yes, because the doctrine of taking revenge on innocent people is part of the jihadists’ twisted logic. But of course we don’t want to cause general unrest by saying such things.

To put the question another way: Are we now inviting terror to Germany, as claimed by eternally outraged commentators? Such claims are naturally nothing but pseudo-intellectual humbug that plays right into the hands of the Islamic State butchers.

Terror is already here and has been for a long time. We have only good luck and cooperation with the demonized American intelligence forces to thank for the fact that we have been spared an attack so far.

Moreover, weakening European and trans-Atlantic unity is what the terrorists are banking on. And the panic of those who decline to get involved is their trump card, a means of showing the hated Western world just how weak it is. Nothing is more effective for the ideologists of Islamic terror than a nation that reneges on its solidarity with friends because it is afraid.

Germany’s modest military contribution to operations against ISIS is the right thing to do despite all justified doubts. Would the French, British, Americans, or even the Russians and Turks give us military support on German soil in the event of a terrorist threat or an actual attack? Yes, they would — unequivocally, and without being self-righteous or didactic about Germany’s past wrongdoings.

But what would the consequences of more German abstinence be?

Let’s remind ourselves: We refused to support NATO operations in Libya in 2011 like recalcitrant children. There might have been good reasons. But not the excuse that “we always knew what would happen” as Libya plunged ever deeper into the abyss – without offering any plausible alternative to stabilize the oppressed country. That’s no way to build trust among allies.

The euro crisis has also left its mark. After our tough austerity policies toward friendly European allies, it would be fatal to beat a quiet retreat and take the easy option of staying out of it. There would be no more effective way for Germany to gradually isolate itself.

It’s also not in Germany’s best interest for the Middle East to sink into even greater chaos. Let’s be honest: The failure of the Afghanistan operation shows how important it is to have a long-term strategy in place before, not after, military intervention. The government’s obvious rush to make decisions is no excuse for ignoring common sense.

The recent tensions between Turkey and Russia show just how brittle international coalitions can be. The risk of being “caught in the crossfire” is omnipresent. But it also opens up the possibility of utilizing one of our country’s growing strengths, which is our relatively unique diplomatic credibility by Western standards. This could be of use not just with the Sunnis and Shiites in the Islamic world, but also with the United States and Russia, as well as Iran and Turkey, both of whom hardly bother to conceal their power ambitions in the region.

Wise guys might point out here that our credibility is only because of our reluctance, up to now, to engage in military activity. But they are wrong. Credibility comes from taking consistent action to defend a system based on freedom and democratic values. This is incompatible with the cynical mantra “you do the bombing, we’ll negotiate.”

In recent weeks we have seen German government policy swing from one extreme to the other. However, going from almost ritualized hesitation to hasty action still requires confronting a public that is skeptical, if not hostile, to the reality of possible outcomes.

The connection between terrorism, instability in the Middle East and all the humanitarian and security-related refugee questions have to be explained, again and again. Talk of a feared “avalanche” of refugees by Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble might hold a grain of truth. But it’s not a solution — and is only of use to the rat-catchers on the extreme right and left of the political spectrum.

International involvement is more difficult, but also more promising in the mid-term than knee-jerk reactions to voters’ expectations. So whether we like it or not – welcome to Realpolitik.

 

To contact the author: gastautor@handelsblatt.com

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