Crisis in Syria: The Seven Year Itch

By Christa Castrignano

Wednesday marked a somber anniversary: it was the day in which the conflict in Syria reached its 7th year. Bashar al-Assad’s desperate attempt to retain power continues unrelentingly and has since escalated to devastating proportions. The “red line” drawn by the Obama Administration was crossed long ago. Assad has proven that he will stop at nothing to preserve his grip on the country of Syria and its people, from unleashing chemical weapons on them to leveling entire cities with bombing campaigns.

Representative Adam Kinzinger reflected on this somber milestone, noting a new consequence of the protracted conflict – a new tool with which Assad and other nefarious actors can wield against the innocent civilians who remain in the war-torn country: starvation. The citizens’ inability to literally put food on their table does not just make them physically vulnerable. The need to fulfill such a basic requirement also makes them extremely susceptible to the whims of extremists.  Hungry and without options, the beleaguered citizens face a peril just as acute as one created by the falling of bombs. Kinzinger describes the graffiti etched by Assad loyalists – on what is left standing. It reads, “kneel or starve.” An unthinkable reality.

Kinzinger notes that currently, humanitarian workers, such as the World Food Programme, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and UNICEF, are largely the last line of defense on the ground. Not only do they supply nourishment to those who need it most, but they also provide support to nations who open their doors to Syrian refugees. They are instrumental in helping rebuild the agricultural infrastructure in Syria as well. Their efforts in that regard help ensure a future for the Syrian people, one not dependent upon the inclinations of those who wish to do them harm.

This should serve as another reminder of the value of America’s soft power, and how the hand can sometimes be mightier than the fist. It is disappointing that the Trump Administration is cutting the funding for the UN and other humanitarian aid programs. The Administration appears to focus on the burdens associated with accommodating those such as Syrian refugees, rather than seeing it as an opportunity to flex soft power (diplomacy) and show benevolence.

Their decision to deploy ground troops into Syria to help retake Raqqa will be meaningless if the people, once liberated, have no means by which to support themselves. It sets them up for failure, leaving them vulnerable to yet another militant group or entity, and undermines our overarching goal towards promoting liberty and peace around the world. We do not set people up for failure; we set them up to succeed. Furthermore, instability in the region represents a pervasive threat to our national security. America is supposed to be the voice of morality and leadership throughout the world. The cuts in foreign aid advocated by the President’s proposed budget puts that role in serious jeopardy. To whom much is given, much is required. At the end of the day, this is not about money. It is not about power. It is about doing the right thing.

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