Thursday, May 8, 2014

Syrian refugees reach out to us

The Boston Globe posted my opinion piece on Syrian refugees on its 'Podium' online page.... About a million Syrian refugees -- civilians fleeing the fighting -- are seeking refuge in neighboring Lebanon, a small country with limited resources, while the rest of the world continues to ignore the humanitarian crisis brought by a conflict in which the government routinely bombs civilian areas.... 

 Please take a look at the piece and pass it on to anyone you think would be interested.

Here's the link to the Globe online page:

            Posted on 5/10/14:

            After reading the piece on the Globe site, some people have asked me (naturally enough) what I think should be done to end the fighting and make it possible for the refugees to go home.
            Also not surprisingly, I will admit I can't offer a simple, practical solution. Any international approach to ending the violence would have been much easier to attempt three years ago at the start of the armed conflict. As someone who opposed invading Iraq and questioned the extent and length our military intervention in Afghanistan, I am likewise opposed to sending ground troops, ours or anyone else's, to fight a war in Syria. I do, however, believe we should have taken the stance we did in Libya, using air power to ground and destroy a dictator's air force once it became clear the dictator intended to bomb cities held by the rebels. Our stated reason for acting in Libya was that the hated ruler of a police state attacked peaceful demonstrators and dropped bombs on people's homes. The same situation obtained in Syria, and still does.
            We put together a coalition then and I don't know why we can't do that again. The UN is useless in these crises since its rules allow a member of the Security Council -- a group of privileged big power governments some of which are perfectly willing to murder dissenters and commit genocide in their own country -- to veto any international action. In the Security Council the very governments that have used killing force without restraint on their own citizens are the ones preventing the UN to take action against a totalitarian regime, Assad's Syria, for seeking to exterminate any citizens who express opposition to its rule. These opponents are branded with the Orwellian libel of "terrorists," a term that is repeated daily by news media. Many media accounts routinely fail to explain that what the Syrian government calls terrorists are actually freedom-fighters. King George III had as much right to call the American rebels "terrorists," though his advisers failed to think up this term.
            We need an international body of democratic governments whose express mission is to combat state terror and prevent genocides. Russia, China, Iran and Sudan need not apply.
            After using air power to ground the Syrian air force and break up concentrations of tanks and heavy weapons wherever possible, the alliance of democratic governments should demand a ceasefire and establish humanitarian corridors, areas where aid, food and medicine can safely enter the country and reach those in need. One corridor from Turkey on one side of the country and another probably from Lebanon on the other side. International troops will be needed here to establish the supply routes and protect them.
            The coalition should also demand that foreign governments stop sending arms and munitions to fuel the killing. They should stop and board a few Russian ships to make the point. What are the Russians going to do? Invade Ukraine? They can do that whenever they want anyway. We should demand Israel's assistance in this border control effort (they owe us for all that aid), since Israel has shown it's good at boarding ships.
            In the end some sort of power-sharing arrangement must be worked out, with international forces remaining to protect religious minorities so that Alawites and Christians feel safe in a Sunni-dominated state. We cannot of course "impose" a peace on Syria or any other country. People have to work out their own fate. But we can significantly lower the level of violence and deny a terrorist state the means to enact a piece-by-piece, city-by-city Rwanda-level genocide. 
          Syria may end up looking like some version of Iraq, though the country will have been spared the trauma of a foreign power's invasion and  occupation. We do have a chance to create conditions that will allow the refugees to go home and take part in rebuilding their country.
            Or we can wait for some deus ex machine to fly onto the stage, snap his fingers and make everything better. Or do nothing until the government turns the majority of of Syrians into refugees, forced to live on international aid outside the borders of their homeland. They can ask the Palestinians to show them the ropes.