Two striking comments about Syria were carried by the international media yesterday, one by the British Foreign Secretary and the other to the German Defense Minister. The statements came at opposite ends of the spectrum; the German one was more severe, while the British one was more realistic.
In an interview with Sky News, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague likened the situation in Syria to that of Bosnia in the 1990s, refusing to rule out the idea of military intervention. He said: “I think we don’t know how things are going to develop. Syria is, as I said in the last couple of weeks, on the edge of a collapse or of a sectarian civil war so I don’t think we can rule anything out”. He then added that Syria is “looking more like Bosnia in the 1990s, being on the edge of a sectarian conflict in which neighboring villages are attacking and killing each other”. Meanwhile, in an interview with the German newspaper “Die Tageszeitung”, the German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière said that he couldn’t stand it when “coffee shop intellectuals” around the world called for military intervention, without ever having to take responsibility for what this would involve. He added that he was concerned at these “brash” calls for the military, saying that such words from people who do not bear any responsibility raise expectations in places like Syria, and therefore also cause terrible disappointment at the same time.
These are two completely different points of view. The second that of the German Defense Minister discredits those who call for intervention to protect the Syrians from al-Assad’s killing machine, branding them as “coffee shop intellectuals”, whereas the British Foreign Secretary warns that Syria is on the verge of collapse and descent into a civil war, and that it resembles Bosnia in the 1990s.
What about the more than 40,000 people [alleged to have died] in Syria, the spread of a wave of kidnappings, and what about the massacres being committed there day after day? What about Syria as a whole being threatened with collapse, a scenario which would mean the outbreak of a wave of unprecedented sectarian conflict in the region, and then Iran, Hezbollah and the current Iraqi government intervening in Syria’s affairs, the response to which will certainly be an ugly one? After that, what would be the fate of the whole region, not only Syria? These are not the questions of coffee shop intellectuals, or people who do not bear any responsibility; these are questions that must be asked. Is it not the duty of the international community to protect civil peace in any country? To protect civilians from systematic killing? Or is it that this “protection” does not include the Syrians? This is a depressing and frustrating matter, especially when we see comments discrediting calls to protect civilians.
Here let us compare, for example, the stance of the German Defense Minister today to that of the former German Minister of Transport Christian Schwarz-Schilling during the Yugoslavia crisis. Schwarz-Schilling tendered his resignation in 1992, saying that he felt ashamed to belong to a government that was watching the Yugoslavia tragedy unfold without doing anything. He condemned all those who were standing by without intervening, at a time when thousands of people were dying. Were these sentiments the words of a coffee shop intellectual, especially considering that the international community went on to intervene in Yugoslavia, after it had hesitated in a similar manner to what we see today with its stance towards al-Assad’s crimes? Is the international community repeating the Yugoslavia mistakes with Syria today? This is truly regrettable.