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Rania Khalek: External players in Syria spend much more fueling conflict then aiding refugees

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

As the humanitarian and refugee crisis in Syria continues to worsen, our next guest has noted how many countries, such as the United States, Qatar, and Iran, continue to spend more money supplying arms that fuel the conflict rather than on humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees.

Now joining us to discuss this is Rania Khalek. She’s an independent journalist reporting on the underclass and marginalized. Her work has appeared on The Nation, Extra!, Salon, Truthout, Al Jazeera America, and much more.

Thank you so much for joining us.

RANIA KHALEK, INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST: Thanks for having me on, Jaisal.

NOOR: So, Rania, what can you tell us about this disparity between the money spent to kill people versus the money spent to help people in Syria?

KHALEK: You know, it’s really striking, because, you know, we’ve been hearing a lot about how there’s all these outside actors, you know, fueling the violence in Syria. And it’s true Syria’s turned into a huge proxy war, where you’ve got certain countries like the United States and Saudi Arabia and Qatar and Jordan and Turkey on one side supporting the rebels, and then on the other and you’ve got Russia and Iran.

So it’s really interesting if you look at these countries who have been arming either side and are largely, I would say, at least, you know, are partly to blame for the violence. What you see is that they’re spending way more money on arming the side that they want to win and, you know, flooding the country with weapons than they are on the humanitarian crisis that has resulted with refugees, which I think number now in something like 6 million, 2 million outside of Syria and 4 million displaced.

So, for example, the United States, the United States–to be fair, the United States has spent the majority or, you know, has given the bulk of humanitarian aid, you know, to the UN. The UN’s requested something like $3 billion. The United States has given around $1 billion. So that’s great. But if you compare that to how much the United States has spent backing the rebels, it’s not quite as much.

First off, the United States has spent somewhere around $1 billion at least giving what they called nonlethal aid to the opposition. So, I mean, that doesn’t seem like the biggest deal in the world, but at the same time, this is things like, you know, trucks and radios and, you know, medical equipment. I mean, that’s really–you know, food. That’s really important stuff. But when you have a situation where there’s a humanitarian crisis and you’re sending lots and lots of, you know, whether it’s food or fuel to the opposition, I mean, there’s no guarantee that that’s going to get to the people who need it most inside Syria.

But on top of that, the United States has also been actively funding a CIA program to basically arm the opposition. We don’t know how much has been spent on that, because it’s been mostly covert. They’ve also–according to various news reports, the U.S. has been, you know, covertly training Syrian rebels. So we don’t know how much that’s costing us either, but I would imagine it’s not cheap.

And so, you know–and then, also, if you look at the Syrian refugee crisis that has resulted, the United States has only taken in 33 Syrian refugees at this point. I mean, that’s a pretty pathetically low number. And overall the U.S. has offered to take in a total of 2,000 Syrian refugees, which is also a pathetically low number.

So, a yeah, you see this huge disparity.

And the same goes for, you know, [incompr.] the two countries that have really been, you know, spending the most money on arming the opposition in Syria, which are Qatar and Saudi Arabia. I mean, with Qatar they’ve spent $3 billion on arming the rebels, and compare that to $2.7 million, I believe, which is going to humanitarian aid for Syrians, and that’s a huge difference.

And the same thing with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia spent something like $50 million or maybe a little bit more than that on humanitarian aid, and, you know, they haven’t taken in any refugees as far as I know. And they’ve spent, you know, billions and billions of dollars. They’ve been one of the main backers. We don’t know exactly how much, but it’s more than Qatar is spending, so it’s billions of dollars, on arming the opposition. And, you know, it goes both ways.

Also, with Russia and Iran, which had been, you know, steadfastly supporting the Assad regime. You know, it wouldn’t be possible for Assad to commit all the violence and brutality he’s committed without weapons that have been–you know, that he’s been able to buy from Russia. And, that was really crucial when the uprising first began. I mean, for a while, Russia stopped arming or stopped sending weapons to the Assad regime, but after diplomatic talks broke down a few months ago, they started sending arms again. So we know Russia’s–I mean, they’re–spent around–or not spent, but Russia’s at least given $1 billion in arms to Syrian troops. I imagine it’s probably more than that. And, you know, Russia’s also spent very little money on humanitarian aid, only about–I think it’s, like, under $20 million. And plus Russia’s also basically used its veto power to protect the Assad regime from the UN Security Council, and I don’t know that you can really put a price on that.

And then, you know, the same thing with Iran. Iran has spent–Iran has given tons of surveillance technology to the Assad regime that was crucial to suppressing the uprising when it first began, when it was still nonviolent, even. You know that Assad wouldn’t have been able to keep a tab on protesters without that technology and to shut it down the way he did. And the same with the arms. They’re still giving arms. And, I mean, Iran–I couldn’t even find Iran on the list of countries giving humanitarian aid to Syrians.

So it’s the same pattern with all these countries that are involved. It’s–they’re more invested by far, by billions of dollars–they’re more interested in fueling the horrific violence in Syria and are doing very, very little, if–you know, some of them are doing nothing to contribute to aiding Syrian refugees, who are really–I mean, they’re in some of the most inhumane circumstances right now, and it’s really, really tragic. So I think it’s important to look at that contrast and point it out, ’cause it should elicit, I think, outrage among people who care about this conflict.

NOOR: Rania Khalek, thank you so much for that very important report.

KHALEK: Thank you for having me on to talk about it.

NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Rania Khalek is a journalist and co-host of the weekly Unauthorized Disclosure podcast. Her work has appeared at The Nation, Salon,, Vice, The Intercept, Electronic Intifada and more.