March 19, 2014

Syria Debate Comes Too Late

By: Lance McCaskill

War with Syria? America would not even be facing this decision right now had President Obama actually made tough decisions and provided the necessary leadership that America, Syria, and the rest of the world needed before it was too late.

President Obama has been kicking the can down the road on Syria for the past 3 years. In 2011, Obama said, “the time has come for President Assad to step aside,” and then he left on a 10-day vacation at Martha’s Vineyard. In 2012, Obama announced a red line — “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to the other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” he told reporters — but disregarded it.

Now the time comes for President Obama to make a critical decision and he kicks it over to Congress, which has infuriated both Democrats and Republicans. Why did Obama even run for president if does not want to make these type of decisions and provide the leadership that our world needs? The Syrian tragedy and humanitarian crisis has been unfolding all along.

At the G-20 summit, the UN secretary general stated that 7 million people in Syria are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Over 4.5 million of these Syrians been internally displaced because of the war. Over 2 million additional refugees have fled Syria for other countries including Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Congo, and others. The combined total of over 9 million refugees is nearly 50 percent of the Syrian population.

Camps in Jordan, designed for no more than 200,000, are being overcrowded with more than half a million refugees. Issues including rape, sexual assault, and violence have followed women into these refugee camps. The property value of low-income housing in Jordan has tripled and Syrian refugees are now displacing the Iraqi refugee population – Fights are beginning to break out between the groups over water. Iraq itself has received nearly 200,000 Syrian refugees, but the national government has not provided much support.

Lebanon has taken in over 700,000 refugees, more than any country. In a country of 4 million, one in every five people in Lebanon is Syrian. However, the Lebanese government is refusing to allow the UN to establish refugee camps, because of lessons learned from providing refuge for Iraqis who ended up establishing permanent neighborhoods. Turkey is also hosting about 400,000 refugees, but does not have the infrastructure in place for a surge. The volume of refugees and potential refugees is greater than what any country or international organization can manage.

The crisis is unfolding and the US humanitarian assistance to Syria has been spent. Additional funds have been reallocated from the Pakistan assistance account to send humanitarian money over to Syria, but the funds are running low.

What will Congress decide? What is the president’s strategy? If military action is taken and the regime does fall, what is the long-term strategic plan? What are the implications for democracy, civil society, and power structures? If President Obama wanted Congress to make the decision, why didn’t he hand the decision over to them before ever reaching this point? What is the strategy to Obama’s incoherent foreign policy?

The reason we are even standing at the brink of war asking these questions in the first place is because of the lack of principled leadership from President Obama — his unwillingness to make the tough decisions that America, Syria, and the rest of the world, need the president to make.

Lance McCaskill is an alumnus of the Romney Readiness Project and former Management Consultant to the Department of Defense. Image of White House protest courtesy of Big Stock Photo.