Middle East | UN chief, China, Germany, prioritize Syrian stability to resolve refugee crisis

UN chief, China, Germany, prioritize Syrian stability to resolve refugee crisis

Christina Lin November 9, 2015 5:17 AM (UTC+8)
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In 2003, Germany had opposed the US invasion of Iraq. In 2011, it again opposed the US bombing of Gaddafi regime that tragically transformed Libya from a relatively stable country to a failed state.[1]

Refugees face attacks in refugee camps in Germany
The sudden wave of Muslim refugees is overwhelming the German population

Now Germany is on the receiving end of nearly one million refugees as a result of western penchant for regime change in the greater Middle East.

The Iraq War cost an estimated 100,000 lives from the population and nearly 5,000 US troops, with more than 30,000 troops wounded whose lives and those of their families are changed forever.

Now Iraq is a failing state overrun by Islamic State (IS), with UNHCR estimating there are currently 370,000 refugees from Iraq, 4 million from Syria, and between 600,000 and one million Libyans living precariously in neighboring Tunisia.[2]

Angela Merkel, currently under intense pressure because of the refugee crisis, visited Beijing on October 29 to seek a political solution for the Syrian conflict. For Berlin, stability and peace in Syria are more important now than regime change or punishing President Bashar al-Assad.

Writing in Deutsche Welle, China watcher Frank Sieren observed that Beijing and Berlin’s views are surprisingly similar regarding Syria, on allowing Syrians to decide about their own future and whether Assad stays or goes, as well as maintaining unity and territorial integrity of the country.[3]

UN chief Ban Ki-moon reinforces this view.[4]  Exasperated by great powers’ parochial interests in preserving or punishing Assad and prolonging the conflict and suffering of the Syrian people, Ban exhorted all powers to put aside their differences for a ceasefire in face of the large-scale humanitarian disaster.

However, Obama submitted once again to Turkey and Saudi’s demands to inflame the conflict and increase arms supply to the jihadi opposition groups, thereby ushering more bloodbath for the Syrians, and driving additional refugees towards Europe and especially Germany.[5]

Meanwhile, as various world powers bicker over the fate of one Syrian man, IS continues to expand.

IS Wahhabism, not Assad, is main threat

Nathalie Tocci, special advisor to the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, in November 2014 criticized that Turkey’s Syrian policy is inherently contradictory.  In pursuing the three goals of (1) removing Assad; (2) warring against PKK; and (3) defeating IS, they are incompatible in the short term. [6]

She argued that without western boots on the ground, the only way to defeat IS militarily is via the Kurds and the Syrian regime “as unpalatable as this may be for Ankara.”

Given IS cannot be defeated by Kurds alone, Tocci noted: “The hard truth is that the Assad regime and Hizbollah in Syria (and Lebanon) and Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq are essential ingredients of the fight.”

She encouraged Turkey to prioritize countering IS and pursuing Kurdish peace, and set aside regime change given Ankara has coexisted with Syria and Iran for centuries, while IS’s Wahhabism poses an existential threat to Turkey.

Tocci added: “An anti-IS coalition worthy of the name would have ideally brought together in a necessary marriage of convenience regional and international adversaries spanning from Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Middle East to the United States and Russia at the broader global level, mandated by a UN Security Council resolution.”

However, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have turned the anti-IS coalition into an anti-Assad/Iran grouping, and continue to back al Qaeda affiliates that try to “degrade and destroy” the Kurds and Syrian army that are the most effective ground forces to fight IS.

In face of the recent Vienna talks stalemate and growing refugee crisis for Germany, Sieren said that Germans are now hoping China will play a constructive role as it did in the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

The Germans felt that China ended up “being an important mediator between Tehran and Washington, for which it has received repeated praise in German government circles, albeit quietly so as not to upset the US.”[7]

He also noted that Berlin’s interests are “more in line with those of Russia and China than those of the US,” echoing what German political scientist Matthias Küntzel in 2009 referred as the emergence of a “new constellation” of powers with USA/UK/France on the one side and Russia/China/Germany on the other.[8]

With the recent upgrade of Sino-British relationship to “comprehensive strategic partnership” and EU members clamoring to join China’s AIIB and ‘One Belt One Road’ initiatives earlier this year, the Beijing-Moscow-Berlin based constellation may actually be expanding.[9]

As world powers prepare to meet again for Vienna II talks on November 12, they should recalibrate the goal to one of humanitarian ceasefire to stabilize Syria and help control the refugee crisis.

EU refugee crisis inflamed by Saudi/Gulf jihad

 Currently, Syria’s neighbors host the bulk of the refugees—Turkey (1.8 million), Lebanon (1.2 million), Jordan (628,427) and Iraqi Kurdistan (247,861), with Europe expected to receive over 1 million refugees in 2015 and up to 3 million by 2017.

Germany took in almost 800,000 asylum seekers this year and accepted nearly half of Syrian asylum applicants.[10] However, this sudden wave of Muslim migrants is overwhelming the German population and provoking a backlash, sparking the rise of neo-Nazism and increasing violence against refugee camps and supportive politicians that are threatening to destabilize the country.[11]

And while Europe is scrambling to deal with the flood of refugees, Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf states that are generating new refugees with their bombing campaign in Yemen and proxy jihad in Syria are taking in zero.[12]

Unless Riyadh and its Gulf allies are willing to accept new refugees generated by their Syrian jihad rather than sending them towards EU, China, Russia, and EU3 in the P5+1 mix should be firm with the US in demanding its Gulf client states—along with the CIA—to stand down in their sectarian military campaign.

On October 31, Reuters reported that CIA, in collaboration with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, expanded the number of jihadi groups to which it is clandestinely delivering weapons including TOW anti-tank missiles that is weakening Syrian government forces.[13]

Given Pentagon ended its $500 million Syrian train-and-equip program due to lack of moderate rebels — only five at the time the program terminated — CIA is now providing more advanced weaponry to radical Islamic groups that have also asked for supply of ant-aircraft MANPADS.

As Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) in the House Armed Services Committee argued on CNN, “the US and the CIA should stop this illegal and counter-producive war to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad and stay focused on fighting against who our enemy is, the Islamic extremist groups.” [14]

She rebuked Obama’s  illegal war since there has been no Congressional vote to authorize the use of force to overthrow a sovereign government, and the American people have not had a choice to speak their views. It is also counterproductive because the arms supply is flowing to the very same Al Qaeda groups that attacked America on 9-11, and that US troops continue to fight against in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, waves of Syrian refugees fleeing jihad continue to overwhelm Germany and the EU. As the great powers meet again this week, it is all the more pressing that they come together and work towards a humanitarian ceasefire to pave way for eventual political settlement, and finally put an end to the Syrian war and large-scale human suffering that UN has called “the great tragedy of this century.”

[1] http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/german-press-criticizes-us-on-10-year-anniversary-of-iraq-war-a-889962.html; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/jan/22/germany.france

[2] http://unhcr.org/556725e69.html#_ga=1.120039752.1140273933.1441369136; http://www.veteransnewsnow.com/2015/09/18/521704a-refugee-crisis-made-in-america-philip-giraldi/

[3] http://www.dw.com/en/sierens-china-no-fast-peace-in-syria/a-18829095

[4] http://www.dw.com/en/un-chief-calls-for-syria-solution-with-future-of-assad-decided-by-the-syrian-people/a-18819312

[5] http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-allies-to-boost-aid-to-syria-rebels-1446682624

[6] http://www.dw.com/en/opinion-turkeys-misguided-syria-policy/a-18036779; http://www.iai.it/sites/default/files/gte_c_16.pdf

[7] http://www.dw.com/en/sierens-china-no-fast-peace-in-syria/a-18829095

[8] http://www.newrepublic.com/article/world/85702/germany-libya-intervention-qaddafi-merkel

[9] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6d107dc4-5fae-11e5-a28b-50226830d644.html#axzz3qj1siIER; http://english.caixin.com/2015-11-06/100871087.html; http://thediplomat.com/2015/07/why-us-allies-are-happy-to-join-chinas-aiib/

[10] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/05/asylum-applications-to-germany-see-160-rise; http://news.yahoo.com/three-million-migrant-arrivals-expected-europe-2017-eu-110347882.html

[11] http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/617220/EU-migrant-crisis-Merkel-Germany-rise-neo-Nazism-refugees; http://www.wsj.com/articles/germany-cites-anti-refugee-motive-for-stabbing-of-politician-1445271847

[12] http://www.inquisitr.com/2402881/arab-governments-syrian-refugees/

[13] http://in.reuters.com/article/2015/10/31/mideast-crisis-usa-escalation-idINKCN0SP05720151031

[14] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7Q8X60KQ9Q

Dr. Christina Lin is a Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of “The New Silk Road: China’s Energy Strategy in the Greater Middle East” (The Washington Institute for Near East Policy), and a former director for China policy at the U.S. Department of Defense.

The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Asia Times.

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Christina Lin
Dr. Christina Lin is a Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University where she specializes in China-Middle East/Mediterranean relations, and a research consultant for Jane’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Intelligence Centre at IHS Jane’s.
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