Normative Narratives


Transparency Thursday: The Syrian Humanitarian Crisis

A lot has been written on the Syrian Civil War, and rightfully so. Over the last 23 months, the Syrian Civil War has claimed the lives of an estimated 70,000+ people. The Assad government remains in control mainly due to UNSC vetoes by Russia and China. These two countries, natural champions of “national sovereignty”, have tied the international community’s collective hands in the matter with no ideological shift in sight. Multi-lateral intervention has failed the Syrian people.

Therefore, it falls on individual nations to act either unilaterally, or more likely bi-laterally, to expedite the process of removing Bashar Al-Assad from power. It has become public knowledge that late last year President Obama rejected a plan from high ranking administration officials to arm the Syrian rebels.

It is not surprising that Obama has been very meticulous with regards to the Syria conflict. America is currently in the process of winding down its expensive “war on terror” in Afghanistan; no one has any interest in getting involved in another “conventional war” in the Middle-East.

There is also the fact that arming rebels can backfire. America has a history of backing a rebel group to topple an autocratic dictator who was seen as a threat to U.S. national security interests, only to bring to power another faction that also did not support “Western values”. For example, America armed a group led by Osama Bin-Laden to fight the Soviet Union in the 1980s, that did not end up so well.

There is an element of worry regarding arming Syrian rebels as well. Certain factions fighting Assad, notably the Al Nusra Front, are believed to have ties to Al-Qaeda. It is important we do not empower a future enemy with advanced military technology and governmental authority.

This time, however, is different. The U.S. and its allies have been central in planning an alternative government in Syria–The Syrian National Coalition. This parallel government was designed to be an inclusive organization that will protect religious pluralism and democratic rights. The fact that such a parallel system exists should help put to rest fears of backing a potential future enemy.

Lost in this Civil War and subsequent power grab is the humanitarian crisis affecting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). These are the people whom the Western world should be most concerned with supporting; those who have no aspirations of political power but merely want a chance to live a meaningful life. But in the midst of all the bloodshed and political jockeying, these people have generally been forgotten.

Oxfam recently put out a report that “…the United Nations’ “worst-case scenario” of more than a million refugees fleeing the country by June could be realized within weeks.”

“The surge was placing a “massive burden” on these countries, with the potential to “undermine stability in the region,” he warned.

‘The humanitarian crisis is worsening day by day, leaving agencies struggling to provide help that’s desperately needed,’ Lacasse said.

He also said that only 20 percent of the $1.5 million pledged by the U.S., other Western nations and Gulf Arab countries at a donor conference last month in Kuwait has been received.”

There is absolutely no excuse for Western nations to have not donated the $1.5 million necessary to support those most affected by the Syrian Civil War. While providing arms is riddled with political and military implications, providing humanitarian aid is a no-brainier. $1.5 million is nothing for the developed world, compared to the potential cost of regional instability associated with massive inflows of refugees into neighboring countries. One could argue that it has only been a month, but this financial aid has to be made available immediately—those on the ground who need the aid cannot wait while the Western world moves slowly to transfer the aid it has agreed to provide.

Yesterday, the White House agreed for the first time to directly assist the rebel forces opposing Assad with “non-lethal” support. While this is a good start to help bring an end to the Civil War, this support must occur in addition to, not instead of, humanitarian aid.

Update: U.S. non-lethal assistance will include $60 million in both non-lethal military aid AND humanitarian aid such as food rations and medical supplies. Good job John Kerry and the rest of the Obama administration! “The United States has also provided $385 million in humanitarian aid to the burgeoning flood of refugees outside Syria and displaced people inside the country.” Seems like I did not give the U.S. enough credit in it’s efforts to combat the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the surrounding region.

Humanitarian aid is a small sliver of the assistance the Western world will ultimately give in ending the violence in Syria. It is however the most beneficial in the short-run to those most affected by the civil war—Syrian refugees and IDPs. Guns and artillery have to be disseminated with great care to ensure the right people receive them. Humanitarian aid is not as sensitive a matter; credible NGOs such as Oxfam already exist to help the Syrian people, the only thing holding them back is a lack of funding.

There is no immediate end of the Syrian Civil War in sight; even Western artillery will only help topple Assad over a significant period of time. But providing aid to stop the humanitarian crisis is a much more immediate fix; once funding is available these people can receive whatever food, fuel, vaccinations and clean water they need to survive.

 Those who have died fighting for freedom can never be brought back. The years of lost economic and human development cannot be returned. All that can be done in the short term is to put an end to the humanitarian crisis affecting almost 1,000,000 Syrian refugees and IDPs. If the Western world wants to have a true Ally in a future democratic Syria, it must provide aid to those who will ultimately hold power in a democratic Syria—the Syrian people themselves.

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