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Democrat July-August 2013 (Number 136)

'Democratic interventionism' in Syria

Horst Teubert - German Foreign Policy group

In a rare move, a professor in criminal law and philosophy of law at the University of Hamburg has strongly criticised the Western meddling in the Syrian war. According to Reinhard Merkel* (who is not related to the German chancellor), "the West has incurred a heavy degree of guilt in Syria." As he voiced in an article in the well renowned Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the reason for this is "not, as is often claimed" that "aid for the resistance" to the Assad regime "has been too cautious." "On the contrary," the West is to blame because it "has permitted, promoted, and managed the resistance into becoming a murderous civil war."

Merkel leaves no doubt that he sees the Assad regime "as a grim tyranny," even though "less bleak than some of those of the Gulf countries" which allegedly "have suddenly discovered their love for democratic change in Syria," supporting the insurgents against Assad. Despite this fact, he does "absolutely not" consider "the unleashing of a civil war, with a hundred thousand victims" to be legitimate in the case of Syria. Merkel expresses particularly sharp criticism of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey which clearly "not for moral" but for "strategic reasons involving Iran" are supplying the insurgents with weapons and thereby have rendered the civil war possible. Iran is the main rival of Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the Middle East; Assad is Iran's ally.

According to Merkel, the "sinister, camouflaged and yet obvious support" provided by Western countries "for this illegal policy" of the intervening powers Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey is to be criticised as well. Western countries indeed supply the insurgents, among other things, with arms, findings resulting from espionage and medical aid. Merkel calls this "a version of the process named since the invasion of Iraq, ten years ago, 'democratic interventionism'" - "managing regime change by military means." The "interventionism" in Syria seems "milder" as it leaves the task to "overthrowing the government to the domestic opposition." As Merkel believes, this practice is not "milder" but in fact "the most reprehensible sort" of interventionism - not only because it leaves "the business of killing and the risk of being killed to others," but particularly because it helps "to unleash the most devastating form of warfare - civil war."

This is all the more "desolate", writes Merkel, when one considers the real prospects for success of "democratic interventionism" in Syria. Available studies concerning "external putsch attempts" show that success depends less on the "power of those intervening" or on the "amount of effort" but rather on "certain prerequisites within the targeted country itself," for example a "relative homogeneity" of the population or "eco-nomic prosperity of the majority of the society." All those prerequisites are basically absent in Syria. In fact, as Merkel confirms, Syria would be a prime "model of a country where every form of democratic interventionism is doomed to fail." If an armed insurgency's "halfway reasonable prospect of success" is to be "a genuine requirement for its legitimacy," any legitimacy "is and has never been present in Syria." Merkel concludes: "I do not believe that future historians will acquit the West on charges of complicity."

* Reinhard Merkel's view is an absolute minority position among the German elites.