Best way for Obama to help Syria is with aid and diplomacy – not weapons
Giving military aid to Syria's rebels – however just their cause – will only prolong the civil war and increase the risk of sectarian conflagration in the region. A better way to help the Syrian people is to pursue diplomatic efforts to end the conflict and provide more humanitarian aid.
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With US involvement growing and escalation likely, pressure would build for stronger action. A no-fly zone? Drone strikes against Syrian tanks and artillery? Boots on the ground? The US might find itself dragged into another even more dangerous Middle East war.Skip to next paragraph
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Rather than pursuing uncertain and dangerous military solutions, the US should use its influence to continue to press for a diplomatic settlement. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov announced recently in Moscow the convening of a conference in Geneva to end the fighting and begin negotiations for a transitional government. UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi welcomed last week’s communiqué as “the first hopeful news concerning that unhappy country in a very long time."
The Syrian government has said it will attend the conference, but the now militarily weakened rebels are balking and say they will not participate without weapons and ammunition from the West. The Obama administration is using the prospect of military assistance for the rebels as leverage to gain Russian and Syrian government support for the talks, and as an inducement for the rebels to participate.
It’s a delicate balancing act that will require Mr. Kerry to pressure the Syrian government into allowing an open transition process and the rebels into pursuing their goals through political and diplomatic means rather than armed struggle.
Syria’s most urgent need is for humanitarian assistance. The UN on Friday issued the largest humanitarian appeal in its history, requesting more than $5 billion this year to care for the more than 1.6 million refugees who have fled the country, with 200,000 more leaving every month, and for the millions more displaced within Syria. Emergency help is needed for food, medical assistance, sanitation, shelter, and schooling for children. The World Health Organization expressed concern last week about possible outbreaks of several preventable diseases.
The Obama administration deserves credit for launching a diplomatic process to try to end the war in Syria. The administration should also pledge greater American support for providing desperately needed humanitarian assistance for the war’s civilian victims. Sending aid rather than weapons and continuing to pursue a diplomatic solution offer the best options for helping the Syrian people.
David Cortright is the director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.
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