'Fair Weather' Friends of Syria

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Terrible tales of savagery are all Syria's refugees are able to escape with as they flee Syria from the cluster bombs and incendiary mortar shells chasing them down. With nothing but the clothes on their backs, I recently witnessed the nightmarish fear which can be seen on the faces of the women and children crowding into the rain-swept refugee camps clinging onto the desolate plateau separating Syria from Jordan -- a far cry from the luxury of Morocco's desert oasis, Marrakesh, where the "fair weather friends of Syria" are currently meeting. The mounting civilian casualty toll is Exhibit A of Assad's crimes against humanity.

While the "friends" meet in Morocco, the "enemies of the Syrian People" are, like rats, jumping the sinking ship. Russia -- the principal culprit prolonging Assad's butchery by dint of diplomatic cover and arms shipments, is pulling the plug and beginning to evacuate its own citizens.  Whether Iran goes down with the pirate ship remains to be seen since Tehran has two divisions of Revolutionary Guards fighting alongside Assad's forces and this is its most critical Middle East jihad venture.

The estimated 700,000 Syrians who were barely able to make it out of their war-ravaged land are the fortunate ones -- over two million of their brethren fleeing the civil war are unable to make it to safety , stuck in treacherous terrain, debilitated by lack of food, water or medicine and pursued like animals by Assad's forces under orders to shoot "defectors."

The Syrian refugee crisis is, by any objective measure, an international humanitarian catastrophe, and the all-too-belated and by any standard paltry international response is one reason why so many Syrians are so furious with the west's measured indifference to Syria's civil war.

Not a minute too soon, the Obama administration has moved with dispatch to make up for lost time and lost ground and has accelerated efforts to rush humanitarian aid to the starving, freezing Syrians caught on the precipice of survival. Deputy Secretary of State Burns (subbing for Hillary Clinton), announced in Marrakesh the U.S. would commit an additional $14 million in emergency humanitarian aid on top of the $200 million already committed to date, making the U.S. the largest national donor to alleviate Syrian suffering.

The EU relief organization and its member have also done quite a bit, donating $310 million for refugee relief.

That welcome American leadership needs to be urgently replicated by the other so-called "Friends of Syria" whose "friendship" is only as good as urgently moving heaven and earth to help prevent hundreds of thousands of Syrians from freezing just as it appears that Assad's days are indeed numbered.

Not surprisingly, the hard currency of Syrian diplomacy is less about humanitarian crisis and more about military operations, SCUD missiles, diplomatic recognition of the opposition,  and troublesome Islamic extremists.  But the "Friends of Syria" would do well to force a division of labor, creating an international subgroup focused exclusively on galvanizing relief operations and collecting actual funds to finance urgent humanitarian appeals by global relief agencies. That is why I have a real problem with the presumptuousness of those declaring themselves "friends of Syria" when the humanitarian crisis confronting Syria's internal and external refugees is taking a back seat in this civil war.

The Syrian people will not soon forget who came to their rescue in their dire hour of need -- and who did not.        

According to UNHCR's latest figures for Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and North Africa, 509,559 Syrians are either already registered (425,160) or in the process of being registered as refugees requiring international assistance  -- and very little of that assistance has been forthcoming.  Registration does not necessarily mean access to food, water, medicine or blankets.

With no end in sight, international aid agencies desperately need $500 million just to keep those lucky enough to make it to refugee relief centers alive notwithstanding the American and European commitments to date.

Americans don't necessarily realize winter in the mountains of the Levant is not like winter in Palm Springs, it is more like winter in Minnesota -- bitterly cold with ice, freezing rain and snow.  With shelter scarce and warm clothing non-existent, Save the Children estimates that it is short $200 million as winter closes in just to protect the children it has already registered for relief.

There is no reason for the American taxpayer to further bear the brunt of Syria's refugee relief needs. Qatar and Saudi Arabia -- the two major Arab protagonists against Assad, have a whole lot of petrodollars sloshing about, and they need to do much more, especially Qatar, which has been engaged in a whole lot of troublemaking recently gun-running to Islamic extremists inside Syria, Libya and financing Hamas's missile inventory. Qatar would do well to earn some badly needed street capital in D.C. by stepping up to the plate and making a big deposit into Syrian refugee relief coffers before winter really sets in.
But the international community cannot let Russia and China off the hook, either. The "friends" need to hold both accountable for their Syrian transgressions. Now that the plate is being passed around they need to [shame][cajole][coerce][choose your favorite diplomatic equivalent] Moscow and Beijing into fixing the very humanitarian catastrophe they both so callously helped create in the first place.
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