The Human Dimension

This violence in Syria is not new. The introduction of chemical weapons, despite the U.S. Administration’s bravado over their declared “red line” being crossed does not make this a new crisis. In fact, just last night I was going through my laptop hard drive to find a piece I had written in April of last year. My Arabic tutor had given me an article in Arabic about the ambassadors’ wives that urged Asma al-Assad to take a stand for peace in Syria. In my article, I discussed the impact it could have on the place of women in the Arab world as well as the humanitarian cause if Asma, a well-educated woman who formerly worked in investment banking, were to stand up and fight for a more peaceful world.

Then, out of curiosity, I wondered, “What is Asma al-Assad doing now? Is she locked away in fear?” What I found was disheartening. Reports suggest that the dictator’s wife has, indeed, been in a bomb-proof bunker, but instead of cowering in fear, she has focused on an obsession with her looks and a shopping spree. There is something sad and desperate in this, true. It has the signs, at least to an outward observer, of someone who feels trapped, and is indulging in the few things she found comforting as her world ends. It’s a painful thought, though it still does not ease the disappointment that this woman did not stand up for herself and seize hold of her situation, or at least at any point express sorrow for the women and children being maimed and killed during this civil war.

Only twenty percent of the American public favors action in Syria; eighty percent say the president should only proceed with approval from Congress (which would be required by the War Powers Act in this case anyway, so kudos to people for knowing their U.S. law). The Arab League endorses international action, but they have insisted that only the UN should call for intervention. The UK voted down a Syria Resolution at the end of last month, depriving the U.S. of one of its most dependable allies should the president get his desired military response. France seems the most likely partner in this venture, should it continue.

Meanwhile China, Russia, and Iran – remember them? – are standing by the Assad regime in this case. Iran has threatened “payback” on Syria should the U.S. strike, while Russia is increasing its warship presence in the region. Growing numbers of reports are emerging linking many rebel groups to Al Qaeda. The last time we tried to build a new government, we replaced Hosni Mubarak with the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohamed Morsi. How’d that go for Egypt?

Also, what little has emerged of Obama’s seemingly haphazard plan to send Assad a message sounds more like Urban Redevelopment than anything. He has promised Assad and the rest of the world that U.S. response would be “quite limited,” and one on-air pundit reported that it would likely be away from civilian-populated areas. So there’s the message to Assad: get anything important in the middle of a dense population, and it’ll all be over soon. Those abandoned downtown buildings we’ll destroy? You can rebuild with a Forever 21 and a Starbucks.

Over 100,000 dead in Syria: that is certainly a staggering, appalling number. However this is not the work of a few months; it is the work of several years. Many of which the U.S. conveniently ignored because we had that “red line” in place, so no matter what other atrocities Assad and rebels alike committed, at least it wasn’t chemical weapons!

Here are two more numbers, though. Seven million (that’s 7,000,000) Syrians have been displaced by the conflict. There are now over two million refugees that fled to Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Those countries are complaining that, in the words of Angelina Jolie, they “could be brought to the point of collapse” if the situation continues. They do not have the resources to care for those displaced.

And I see this as our opportunity. What about the human element? The civil war is placing Al Qaeda against Assad, and to oppose one is to support the other. Right now we would be entering Syria alone, possibly pulling Iran, Russia, and China in opposition to us. Perhaps France will join, but if the UN does not sanction military intervention, then who is to say? And if we do topple Assad, do we just feasibly have the resources to try to build another government, when we generally have a failed government-building track record now anyway?

But what can we do for the people? Forget Tomahawks; forget ground troops, drones, and missiles. The reason we care in the first place is not Assad or the rebels, it is the people. Two million refugees, five million displaced within the country – what can we do for them? The U.S. is known for stepping in and trying to fix things with a bomb now, with trying to demolish a society so that we can try to build it back up in our mold, often when the pieces of the foreign country just do not conform to that mold. Is that the answer to this crisis, especially when we are coming in so late and after so much death has already taken place, and seemingly with people providing so much poor information to our president?

Instead of knocking down what remains of life in Syria, what can we do to ensure they have the materials and tools to rebuild their lives?

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