Obama “Red Line” on Syria Avoids Dealing with Massive Humanitarian Crisis

Rana Khoury: All the outside intervention is ruining the country; a political solution and humanitarian assistance is the only way to stop the killing

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Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

On April 25, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that it seems that the Syrian regime is using chemical weapons. He said, quote, they have confirmed with varying degrees of confidence that chemical weapons were used on a small scale.

Here to discuss all this is Rana Khoury. Rana is an independent researcher who received her bachelor’s degree in political science from American University and her master’s degree in Arab studies from Georgetown. In the intervening years she lived in Syria, where she studied Arabic and taught English for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, and in Singapore, where she worked for the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore.

Thank you for joining us.

RANA KHOURY, INDEPENDENT RESEARCHER: Thank you for having me, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: So, first and foremost, what do we make of this language? It seems that Secretary of Defense Hagel is really hedging crossing that red line that President Obama had marked earlier that if the Syrian regime did decide to use chemical weapons, that the U.S. government would intervene. What do you make of the language that he’s using?

KHOURY: As you said, Jessica, I think that he’s being quite vague, and I think that that’s purposely so. I think the Obama administration is very wary of crossing their own red line. They have done their utmost for two years to stay out of the conflict in a direct way, and I don’t think that they want to be pulled in now.

So, on the other hand, I think their hand was pushed to investigate further accusations of chemical weapons used that the opposition has been putting forth, because European governments, and the Israeli government now, just yesterday, have conducted their own investigations and concluded that chemical weapons were used. So the Obama administration had to act on it, but in doing so is remaining as vague as possible, probably extremely wary of having to intervene in these basis.

DESVARIEUX: So just so our viewers are aware, you are of Syrian descent. And I wanted to sort of get your take about what you’re hearing on the ground. And, specifically, what do you feel the U.S. should do? Do you feel like we should intervene?

KHOURY: Yes, I am of Syrian origin. And I can just say that really on the ground I think people feel like this has really become a disastrous situation and that nobody in the international community is willing to help, one way or another, no matter what their political views, whether it’s to put an end to the violence or to overthrow the regime, whatever it may be. The humanitarian situation has just gotten out of control.

And in my own view, I believe that the U.S. needs to get behind a political solution to end the conflict, to bring about a negotiated transition into a post-Assad Syria. And I think they can do that by supporting UN and other diplomatic initiatives.

The United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, stated unequivocally last week that a political solution is the only way to end the bloodshed. We had five UN agencies put out an unprecedented collective call to bring an end to the bloodshed, to address the humanitarian situation. So I think this is what all diplomatic energies should be addressing is ending the bloodshed and moving towards a political solution, rather than having diplomatic energies be spent on how to further militarize the situation, i.e. by arming the rebels or finding other military means to end the Assad regime.

DESVARIEUX: And that’s the whole thing. Officially, the United States hasn’t intervened, but we do know that the United States, as well Saudi Arabia, other countries in the emirates, have been weaponizing the opposition. And then on the other side of that, the Syrian regime has support from the likes of Iran and Russia. So this sort of seems like this proxy war of some sort taking place in Syria. What do you make of all of this?

KHOURY: It’s an extremely devastating situation to see all countries from all sides exasperating the conflict by weaponizing both sides and trying to take advantage of what’s become a very vulnerable country. And I think that, you know, the U.S., as you said, has not directly intervened, but is supporting regimes who are intervening, especially Qatar and Turkey. And, you know, President Obama was just speaking with the Qatari leadership and asking them not to send weapons to the most extreme groups.

But I think this sort of talk is in vain. I think that extreme groups are obviously getting weaponized. They are the most powerful ones on the ground. Everyone sees that. And it’s not even just the Qatari government or the governments themselves who are arming. These are also private benefactors to various rebel groups. And it’s really just out of control.

DESVARIEUX: What do you think viewers can do in order to get their politicians and lawmakers to be aware of the humanitarian issue in Syria? But they are against militarizing the situation any further.

KHOURY: I think it’s critical that people’s attentions stay focused or get focused on the humanitarian crisis. The United Nations body for refugees, the UNHCR, has asked for over $1 billion specifically for a response plan to Syria, and they have a 45 percent funding gap. And the UNHCR is funded by governments, so I think people can push their policymakers to continue to fund these responses. They can also raise awareness in their communities and raise money for organizations that are working on the ground.

The UNHCR currently has almost 1,200,000 people registered as refugees. They have 1,400,000 persons of concern. Already in April they reached 120 percent of their June planning figure for the number of refugees.

So I think that that’s critical, that people raise awareness and raise money and get their policymakers to raise money for the humanitarian crisis.

DESVARIEUX: Well, thank you for joining us, Rana.

KHOURY: Thank you, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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