Britain and France can be criticsied for having quick military solutions at the ready if armed conflicts break out somewhere. But, to their credit, they’re always ready to take a decision if they can no longer stand by and watch while war crimes unfold, such as in Syria. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, on the other hand, admonishes, warns, and frets incessantly about doing any such thing.

However, as different as the positions in Europe are over whether to arm the Syrian rebels, they are edging closer in another matter: Europe no longer stands so clearly on the side of the insurgents as it did at the start. European foreign ministers are facing two key points in the Syria conflict: the direct interference of the Lebanese Hezbollah in the conflict, which could turn the civil war into a conflagration; and the increasing dominance of Islamist and jihadist groups on the side of the rebels.

The West is getting increasingly unnerved by the thought that the fighters with the black flags and long beards could take over the government if the Assad regime falls. Doubts are growing that the groups currently leading Syria's resistance are actually planning to bring in anything that respects democracy and minority rights.

Staying out of the fight

The push for an International Conference on Syria suddenly becomes clear. From the outset, the strategy of the West in Syria was to stay out of the fight. As it looked certain that Assad's days were numbered anyway, that seemed reasonable at the time. In the meanwhile, though, the Europeans, like the Americans, have grasped that Assad does still have supporters: the Alawites, the religious group to whom he belongs; the Christian minority, which does not trust the Sunnis; and the supporters and beneficiaries of the system and the ruling Baath party. In all, about a third of the population supports the regime.

Keeping out of the conflict is, all the same, not an option for the Europeans. Their restraint has so far been exploited only by the Assad regime. To believe that one cannot be guilty of doing nothing is an illusion. For the deaths of more than 70,000 people over the past two years, the Syrians also have the West to blame.