Von Peter Haisenko
Zwei Kriegsschauplätze standen in der vergangenen Woche im Zentrum des medialen Interesses: Syrien und Südsudan. Während erwartungsgemäß bei der Genfer Syrienkonferenz kaum Ergebnisse erzielt worden sind, kam es im Südsudan zu einem Waffenstillstand – und das ganz ohne „Friedenskonferenz“. Sind die Schwarzen im Sudan gescheiter als die Spitzendiplomaten in Genf? Ganz so einfach ist es leider nicht. Es gibt da einen sehr markanten Unterschied mit weitreichenden Folgen.
Die Syrienkonferenz in Genf stand von Anfang an unter schwierigsten Bedingungen. Nicht zuletzt deswegen, weil die USA ihre Haltung, die sie seit Beginn der Syrienkrise eingenommen haben, untermauerten, indem sie der Konferenz die ultimative Forderung voranstellten: Assad muss gehen! Wie aber soll verhandelt werden, wenn der einzige klar definierte und ansprechbare Verhandlungspartner vorab als Verlierer einer angeblich ergebnisoffenen Konferenz aussortiert wird? Da grenzt es fast an ein Wunder, dass wenigstens humanitäre Erleichterungen für die Bürger der Stadt Homs erzielt werden konnten. Kinder und Frauen dürfen gehen, der Austausch von Gefangenen wurde in Aussicht gestellt, Versorgungsgüter sollen geliefert werden. Immerhin – wenn es dann tatsächlich so weit kommt.
Wer liefert was und wie und wer bezahlt dafür?
Die wirklich spannenden und alles entscheidenden Fragestellungen wurden in der gesamten Berichterstattung über Syrien nämlich geflissentlich ausgeblendet: Wie und auf welchen Wegen wird der Teil Syriens bislang versorgt, der in den Händen der Assad-Gegner ist, mit Lebensmitteln, Medikamenten, Treibstoffen und anderen lebenswichtigen Gütern? Wer liefert was und wie und wer bezahlt dafür? Wer liefert Waffen und Munition und wer bezahlt dafür?
Das Geld für die Assad-Gegner kommt aus Katar und Saudi-Arabien. Petro-Dollars, also letztlich auch unser Geld, das wir an den Tankstellen abgeben. Wer allerdings mit diesem Geld die Lieferungen durchführt, ist unbekannt. Über Katar muss man nicht viele Worte verlieren. Das absolutistisch regierte Emirat am Persischen Golf, das 2022 die Fußball-WM in die Wüste holen will, ist ein 100-prozentiger Vasall der USA. Saudi-Arabien nur zur Hälfte. Dort gibt es nämlich auch bedachte Leute, die durchaus die Gefahren erkennen, die sich ergeben, wenn die saudischen Hardliner (im Verbund mit den USA) ihr Ziel erreichen sollten, und Assad tatsächlich gehen muss. Dieser kluge Teil der Saudis fürchtet ein Übergreifen des fundamentalistischen Terrors auf ihr Land. Zu Recht, denn auch Saudi-Arabien hat sich von stabilen Verhältnissen entfernt.
Längst hat sich gezeigt, dass die Opposition in Syrien in zahlreiche kleinere Gruppierungen zersplittert ist, die sich inzwischen gegenseitig bekämpfen. Dabei gewinnen die militanten Islamisten, allen voran al-Qaida, immer mehr an Boden. Eine äußerst prekäre Entwicklung, die den Samen des völligen Untergans Syriens in sich trägt. Auch diese wenig ermutigende Perspektive ließ ein Scheitern der Konferenz in Genf von Anfang an als wahrscheinlichsten Ausgang erwarten.
Weder Saudi-Arabien noch Katar verfügen über eigene Waffenproduktionen. Was also nach Syrien geliefert wird – für welche Seite auch immer –, muss irgendwo eingekauft werden. USA? England? Deutschland oder Russland? Verlässliche Nachweise für Waffenlieferungen sind nur bedingt zu führen. Zu undurchsichtig ist das Geschäft mit dem Tod. An der Stelle kann nur eine klare Aussage ohne Wenn und Aber getroffen werden: Wer immer es zulässt, dass Waffen und Munition aus seiner Produktion Syrien erreichen, macht sich mitschuldig an Hunderttausenden von Toten, Millionen von Flüchtlingen und an der Zerstörung eines ganzen Landes.
Sind die Schwarzafrikaner wirklich klüger?
Der letzte Waffengang im Südsudan hat etwa drei Wochen gedauert. Dann wurde ein Waffenstillstand vereinbart. Das hatte einen einfachen Grund: Den Kombattanten auf beiden Seiten ist die Munition ausgegangen. Da es auch im Südsudan keine eigene Produktion gibt, konnte man also nur so lange aufeinander schießen, wie der Nachschub an Munition funktionierte. Als die Lieferungen aus dem Ausland ausblieben, war die tödliche und feige Macht der Waffe gebrochen. Mit Gewehrkolben und Macheten aufeinander einzuschlagen, hatten die Kämpfer offenbar keine Lust. Also setzte man sich an einen Tisch und verhandelte.
Das Beispiel Südsudan ermutigt zu der Hypothese, dass auch in Syrien das Blutvergießen innerhalb von drei Wochen beendet werden kann, wenn der Nachschub an Waffen und Munition ausbleibt. Die Assad-Gegner verfügen mit Sicherheit über keine eigenständige Produktion hierfür. Der einzig richtige Weg im Vorfeld jeder ernstzunehmenden Friedenskonferenz für Syrien müsste also sein, jegliche Zufuhr von Waffen und Munition nach Syrien zu unterbinden. Hier steht der Westen in der Pflicht.
Syrien ist umgeben von Ländern, die unter westlicher Kontrolle stehen: Im Norden die Türkei, im Osten der Irak, im Süden Jordanien und Israel. Der Westen grenzt an den Libanon und das Mittelmeer. Hier kreuzt bereits die deutsche Marine. Wenn also Kriegsgüter zu den Assad-Gegnern gelangen, dann kann das nur mit Billigung der Westmächte geschehen. Oder vielleicht politisch korrekter: Mit gezieltem Wegsehen. So oder so, der Westen hat es in der Hand, das Morden in Syrien innerhalb kürzester Zeit auf ein Minimum zu reduzieren. Danach, erst danach werden auch die fanatischsten Islamisten zu ernsthaften Verhandlungen bereit sein – wenn sie dann überhaupt noch Interesse an Syrien haben.
Weitere Artikel zu Syrien und dem Konflikt mit dem Islam:
Wenige Tage vor den Syrien-Gesprächen in Genf und Montreux hielt der deutsche Journalist Dr. Rainer Hermann auf Einladung der deutsch-amerikanischen Gesellschaft in Berlin einen vielbeachteten Vortrag zur augenblicklichen Situation im Nahen Osten. Im Mittelpunkt seiner Analyse stand der Bürgerkrieg in Syrien mit all seinen komplexen politischen, wirtschaftlichen, ethnischen und religiösen Implikationen. Der ausgewiesene Syrien-Experte machte deutlich, welche unterschiedlichen Interessen in diesen Konflikt hineinspielen, wie unversöhnlich sich die Kriegsparteien gegenüber stehen, wie in sich zerstritten die so genannte Opposition in Syrien ist, und wie außerordentlich schwierig es sein wird, zu einem politischen Konsens zu gelangen, um das Blutvergießen zu stoppen und den Menschen in der gesamten Region nicht noch mehr Leid und Elend zuzufügen.
Wir danken Dr. Hermann, dass er uns seinen Vortrag zum Nachdruck in AnderweltOnline überlassen hat. Das Manuskripts dieses Vortrags, den Dr. Hermann in englischer Sprache gehalten hat, veröffentlichen wir im Original.
Von Dr. Rainer Hermann
We owe the great American poet and philosopher Donald Rumsfeld this insight: “There are known knowns, there are known unknowns, and there are unknown unknowns.”
How right he was. Put into the Syrian context, this tells us:
We know, there is very little we know; much remains unknown.
First, there are “known knowns”: Syria never had been a democracy; President Assad was ruling with an iron fist; Syria’s ruling class is a heterodox Shii offspring; Syria is part of the anti-Western axis Iran-Syria-Hizbullah; the population is a highly diverse ethnic and confessional mix; every segment of this mix is present in neighboring countries, too. This is the set-up of the knowns, and this mixture already complicating any policy.
Secondly, there are known unknowns, in other words:
Matters exist, but we do not have answers to questions such as:
- How sustainable is the stability of this ethnic and confessional mix?
- Could this mix draw the region into a wider conflict?
- Is there any credible and united opposition?
For most of these questions we have answers today:
- We know, that the stability was not sustainable,
- Syria draws the whole region in a wider conflict.
That leaves the third category, the unknown unknowns.
These are matters we do not know that we do not know.
We lack of imagination to know.
- We were aware of what had happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, but we lacked the imagination that history could be repeated: Today we know, and we face an Afghanistan at the Mediterranean.
- We also did not have an idea about the power of personal insults in the Orient. President Bashar al-Assad insulted the Saudi King in 2006 as being a “half man”. There is hardly any bigger insult in the Arab world. The consequence of that is seen today, when the chief of Saudi intelligence, Prince Bandar says: “We will depose Assad, at any cost.”
Mr. Rumsfeld forgot yet another category: There are unknowns, but many of us pretend that they we do know.
There is a lot of misinformation around. To give just one example: Many media quoted the Saudi scholar Nawaf Obaid, that Saudi will establish a force with 100.000 soldiers to fight Assad and Iran. There is absolutely nothing to this story. Nawaf Obaid, who is mistaken as a spokesperson for Saudi security, has legendary bad relations with Prince Bandar.
What happened? Nawaf Obaid misinterpreted the GCC-summit decision from December 2013 to establish a Peninsula Shield.
Another example: Since a couple of days there is talk of a twitter account of a defected fighter of ISIS. He gives insight into the structure of ISIS and describes the Emir Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Is it true? Is a trap? We just do not know.
We lacked also imagination in the following: We naively believed that the weapons, which we hand over on Turkish soil to the (pro-Western) rebels, stay in their hands.
We believed, foolishly, that we could control the flow of weapons. We should have known better. In Libya the weapons also ended up in the hands of extremists, from Libya they had been distributed to extremists Mali, the Maghreb, even to Syria.
The result is disastrous:
- Al Qaida never controlled a territory as large as today;
- Al Qaida never had so many warriors under weapons as it does today;
- Al Qaida never had been a regional and global threat as it is today;
- Al Qaida is a state, collecting taxes.
This is the real war on terror. If we do not fight it, it will spill over to more countries and eventually to Europe. Should we take sides?
Well, the Syrian regime’s intelligence has information about the where-about of dangerous people which we could share; we could get information on were their exercise grounds are. But then somebody needs to talk to the devil.
Let me turn to media. Media is about collecting knowns and about transforming unknowns into knowns; these we convey to the public. Those facts are the fundament for public discussion.
For me as a journalist, there was never a conflict so difficult to cover and to manage as the war in Syria. This is mainly for two reasons. One has to do with us, the other with Syria.
The first reason: In the West, nearly everyone sided from the very beginning with the opposition. Nearly everyone was with the revolution, supporting the call for the fall of a despotic regime, an ugly police state, nearly everyone was against the regime. Including me. More or less, there was a romantic empathy for revolution and revolutionary change.
As the conflict dragged on, there was less black and white, and more shades of grey.
Every war radicalizes every one, each side commits crimes against humanity. More than 130.000 people had been killed in the conflict. Many journalists report this figure and assume that it was “Assad” who killed all these, most of them being women and children. However, the truth is that – according to the pro-rebel Syrian Observatory for Human Rights – one half of those had been soldiers killed by the rebels.
Another common form of misinformation: Many journalists argue, that in Syria it was the “people” who rose against Assad; for that reason the international community has to be with the “people” and the rebels. The truth, untold by many, is: Assad has as many supporters as the rebels. Syria is not Libya, where Gaddafi did not have any popular support.
The second reason, why this conflict is so difficult to cover, has to do with Syria. Nobody needs to tarnish the image of the Syrian regime. They succeed themselves. When the first news broke out about peaceful protest in Homs, Syria’s state media ignored them; when they could not be ignored any longer, the state media engineered false reports, blamed “armed gangs” and “terrorists” to challenge the state’ authority. From then on, nobody held the Syrian state media credible, rightly so. Even later, when news broadcasted by the regime was based on facts, hardly anyone believed them any more. Their news could be right, be wrong – nobody cares.
Because a 2nd source of information emerged from inside Syria, which deemed to be a better one: The rebels, mainly the local “Coordination Committees”, sent news about events in their cities in real-time to their media offices abroad, mainly in Washington. There the news content and photos were edited and made available to the media worldwide. The world media held these news credible, because most of the time they had turned out to be true – contrary to the regime’s media outlets.
However, there was one big problem: Social media enabled the rebels to send their reports, photos and videos quickly into the world. They produced every day dozens, even hundreds of them. Some argued: “Therefore never a conflict was better documented.”
I doubt that: Every story was one side’s version, nobody could verify those. A Youtube-clip is not a proof, it is a weapon. You easily can manipulate these clips, and this is what happened.
The regime made, next to its fabricated news, a second mistake in media: It hardly granted press visa. So, many journalists contacted the opposition to bring them illegally into Syria into the “liberated areas” Their reports increased the bias in favour of the rebels and against the regime.
To sum up:
- The news distributed by the regime had been highly unreliable, false. It was not possible to do research inside Syria, you could not contact representatives of the regime.
- Reporting about Syria has changed slowly with the interviews President Assad gave. I was the first European journalist he gave an interview, and I followed the impact of the interview in the German public. For the first time I heard voices such as: “I never would have thought that Assad is so reasonable.” “We should have heard his voice before”.
The essence of all this is: In Syria it is very challenging to get hard facts, to get known knowns. Important matters remain inaccessible, everyone interprets them differently. Let me give two examples:
Houla. In the village of Houla, near Homs, in May 25, 2012 more than 100 people got killed in a massacre, among them 49 children. The social media close to the rebels reported the story few hours after it happened through its offices in Washington. The opposition demanded that the UN Security Council, which was to meet two day later, should vote in favour of an international intervention to stop “Assad’s killing machine”. That version became consensus in the Western world.
I was among those to doubt this version. My sources had been residents from Houla who sought refuge in Damascus, and whom I able to contact through friends I knew since many years. They have told me that armed groups of the rebels took that day revenge at two families who had been linked to the regime. These families had represented the state in Houla.
I cannot exclude the rebel’s version. What happened remains unknown. Access to the site for independent research is not possible; nobody in Houla would dare to speak against the rebels who rule over the city. However, I admit, I cannot prove my version, I just consider my witnesses trustful and their narrative convincing. 20 months after it happened, no proof will be possible anymore.
Houla was a turning point. From now on many massacres continued to be attributed to the regime, but an increasing number has been committed by the rebels, or more precisely by Islamist extremists.
The second example: the attack with toxic gas on August 21, 2013 on the Damascene suburb of Eastern Ghouta. For the “political correct” mainstream politicians and most media, there was only possible culprit: the regime. Absolutely, it is possible that the regime committed this atrocity as it committed many other atrocities. However, it is also possible that Islamist extremists did it.
Those accusing the regime base their claim on three arguments:
1. The quality of the Sarin indicates it had been produced industrially, and only the regime has facilities to do so.
2. The rocket came from a direction in which Maher al Assad’s 4th Brigade has its headquarter.
3. On remains of the rocket Russian letters had been found.
However, there are valid counterarguments:
1. It is known that the toxic gas expert of the former “Islamic State of Iraq”, the Iraqi jihadist Ziyad Tariq, is based at least since summer 2013 in the Eastern Ghouta. He is on the US’ most wanted list. And it is known that Syria’s jihadists produce and control quantities of sarin.
2. A weapon expert from Boston’s MIT, Theodore Postol, analysed the findings of the UN report on the attack. He argues that the rocket was home made, and it could have flown no more than 2 kilometers. This means, it was launched from an area controlled by the rebels themselves.
3. The US and Israeli intelligence have been able to monitor all chemical gas stocks of the Syrian army. A report by Seymor Hersh shows, the US President was warned in the periods before and after August 21 several times about Syria activating poison-gas-weapons, but never on the days around August 21.
Everyone has a right to be confused now. Another aspect of the massacre is still not clarified: The US claims 1400 persons had been killed, the French NGO “Medicins sans Frontiers” assumes however just 355 had been killed during the attack. The difference shows how difficult it is to transform the unknown into a known.
The war in Syria took some surprising turns.
- President Assad, cynical as he is, made the world and the Syrians choose between him, Al Qaida, and the decay of Syria. Now we have all three of those options.
- In the beginning, the regime fought peaceful activists. Assad did not want to be toppled like Ben Ali or Mubarak. If the regime would have given in (with political concessions), the ugly war would not have started.
- The opposition in exile was confident that they will take over soon. First there was a talk of six weeks, then of six months. Today the opposition is as irrelevant as never before.
- Russia, putting all eggs into the one Syrian basket, seemed to become the big loser. Today, Moscow is the winner. The lesson from Syria is: Russia is an ally on whom you can count, even in bad times. New actors, disappointed by Washington’s passive attitude, start to look to Moscow – Egypt, the Gulf, the Christians.
In this context, the Western mainstream media and Western politicians became victims to gross misjugdements. I just mention some of them.
1. Everyone predicted in 2011 – including myself – that Assad’s fall is imminent. Yet, some politicians who predicted Assad’s fall are gone before him. Still he is in charge, and it seems he will survive politically, however not in the Syria we have known. We have another unknown: Into how many segments will Syria split, and who are the warlords who will run them? The longer the war lasts, the more independent they will be, living from a well-established war-economy.
2. Nearly everyone argued, that there is no Islamist extremist threat who might hijack the revolution. Such a talk was dismissed as conspiracy to discredit the opposition. Well, today’s “Jihadi Crescent” from Anbar over Raqqa to Aleppo and Idlib is a known known, even descending South with pockets in Lebanon and on the Sinai.
3. Everyone had accused Assad that he fights his own people. Yes, he did and he does. However, from 2012 on he was fighting also foreign fighters and defending the sovereignty of Syria against warriors who were and who are sponsored by Gulf states, governments as well as private donors. The revolution was hijacked and steered from outside to settle accounts which have nothing to do with Syria.
The war in Syria is not simply a game between black and white, between a good and an evil force. It is highly complex with three main layers:
1. The local context: The regime fights an uprising that started, like all revolutions in Syria’s history, in the countryside. The revolution had from early on a sectarian side: the Non-Sunni-minorities have a disproportionate high share within the urban elite, this provoked the anger of the Sunni poor in the neglected suburbs. Another aspect of the local context is that the Kurds, also deprived, see a chance for autonomy.
2. The regional context: The fight between Saudi Arabia and Iran over regional hegemony, between Arabs and Persians, between Sunni and Shii Islam; all of the have compliant proxies in Syria.
- Each group inside Syria has a patron in neighboring countries: the Sunnis, the Shii, the Druse, the Christians, the Kurds etc. That fuels the confessionalisation the conflict.
- Another aspect: Qatar wanted to have a gas pipeline to Europe passing Syria. Assad (defending Russian interests) rejected the project, so Qatar took the side of the rebels.
- Qatar’s policy failed, Turkey’s grand game failed equally. Instead of being a part of the solution, Turkey has become part of the war with Erdogan overreaching his possibilities.
3. There is a global context: Russia sees in the conflict a chance to return to the global stage as an actor. It was a gamble, but paid off. He Russian bear is back.
When Mr. von Massenbach and I talked for the first time about a possible speech about Syria, we drew comparison with the “Thirty years war” from 1618 to 1648 in mind. This first huge catastrophe on German soil was ended by the Westphalian Peace Treaty in 1648. The comparison is still a fair one.
The Arab world is shaken by several historical developments, which occur simultaneously:
- the search for religious freedom: to be a Salafi in Tunisia, to be a Shii in Saudi Arabia;
- the search for religious peace: so that this religious pluralism can peacefully exist;
- the fight for the citizen’s participation in their political systems: which includes accountability of the rulers, the state of law etc.
It is often argued that the Arab world is in middle of its own 30-years-war. This war had been an unimaginable catastrophe in Germany’s history. One out of three Germans had been killed when Catholics fought against Protestants, and Protestants against Catholics. Foreign powers, who pursued their own interests and sent their mercenaries, prolonged the war by decades. Cities and villages had been devastated when the war was finally over.
Germany became then the battleground of Europe, today Syria is the battleground for the Middle East. History repeats itself: Sunnis fight Shiis, Shiis fight Sunnis. The war made every third citizen a refugee; foreign powers prolong the war by sending weapons and mercenaries. Cities are destroyed, the countryside is devastated, and we are only in the third year of the war.
At the end we might hopefully see an agreement ending the war – maybe in a mixture between the Peace Treaty of 1648 and the Peace Accord of Taif 1989 which ended the Lebanese civil war. Hopefully this treaty will lead to an acceptance of denominational diversity and to the mutual recognition of independent states. This is still a big unknown. The process might start in Wednesday in Montreux and Geneva.
What to expect from Geneva? [Leaving to the discussion?]
Who will meet?
- UN-GS invited 25 nations, among them US, Ru, London 11, not Iran.
- Syria, 8 delegates each: - regime, led by Muallim
- Opposition SNC 5, others 3 = will negotiate from Friday behind closed doors
The invitation is based on Geneva I communiqué from June 2012.
- “transnational government” preparing elections, composed of members of each side. Neither side likes that (regime: does not bargain about its future, opposition: Assad’s fall is prerequisite to anything)
- However: - Geneva I was about Assad
- Geneva II is about Qaida
What is needed for Syria?
1) Humanitarian relief: open corridors into non-govt areas, can be achieved.
2) Exchange of prisoners: Doable.
3) Ceasefire, impossible. a. Annan failed on that
b. Rebels groups (Ahrar al Sham etc.) announced that they will not accept the outcome.
c. Regime forces will not let rebels conquer new areas.
Can the opposition deliver?
No! They are internally disunited, on the battle ground without relevance.
What if Geneva II fails?
- The decay of the country will continue speedily.
- A military intervention might be in the making.
- The US have singled out as the “biggest single security threat 2014”. A UN-SC-resolution might allow military action against Al Qaida.
My final remarks.
To solve this conflict, “honest brokers” are needed. Germany could be one of those. The world looks to Germany, expects a lot from this economic powerhouse. Germany has to shoulder responsibility for peace.
Secondly, we never know everything. But we should not be fooled any longer about seemingly “known knowns”. They might turn out to be unknowns.
I want to close with another insight of the great US-poet Donald Rumsfeld. Once he commented on what Germany’s former chancellor Gerhard Schröder proposed on how to reform NATO.
Rumsfeld’s criticism could be applied to today’s proposal to accept Syria’s regime as partner and the lesser evil. Then Rumsfeld had characterised Schröder’s proposal as: “It’s like Wagner’s music: It is not as bad as it sounds.”