It is difficult to watch the West make believe it is doing much about the humanitarian situation inside Syria or about the political situation, indeed about anything inside Syria. But we comfort ourselves in the belief that we are a virtuous people helping millions as we continue to lack a serious resolution of the unending violence.
This past week we acted as if a courageous rescue of over 1000 desperate people in Homs was a major humanitarian contribution to Syria and a harbinger of change in dealing with the ongoing disaster. And we apparently have come to believe that if we work hard diplomatically to press the Russians or embarass them we will be allowed to provide food to helping equal numbers in some other hard hit areas over the next month or so. Supposedly that constitutes real progress thus allowing us to tell the world we are making some headway on the Syrian disaster. We have effectively turned into supplicants looking for all sorts of ways to help small numbers of Syrians by getting the Russians to act as humanitarians even as we seek to kick them out of the Ukraine, but trying to make ourselves believe we are on the winding road to either peace or a better humanitarian situation, whatever that means.
Such is the state that the West has allowed itself to become—begging the Russians to tell the Syrians to be nicer to Western aid efforts. Believe it or not the massive need for humanitarian aid in Syria has now become our major vehicle for trying to change the political situation within Syria. I once thought that the humanitarian indictment of the Obama administration over Syria would lead ultimately as in Bosnia to a small but serious American military involvement. That was clearly a pipe dream.
Indeed the Bosnian experience had some similarities to the Syrian one. For some three years we provided humanitarian assistance to Bosnia’s besieged people, preserved Serb victories, and endorsed countless fruitless efforts through the UN to work out a peace that would give Milosevic, the Bosnian Serbs, and the Croatian government basically what they wanted. We ultimately bombed Serbian forces because of Congressional and other domestic political pressures and mostly because the Russians were no longer on the scene, while ending up giving Milosevic his basic requirement of an independent Bosnian Serb state. Had the Russians really been on the scene and again three years later in Kosovo it is doubtful we would have done anything. That has clearly been the case in the far more complicated Syrian scene, where the Russians have been joined by the Iranians, one that has unexpectedly evolved into a dangerous situation to us as well as to the Syrians
In the Syrian case we went further: we made it clear to the Syrian government that if you continue the war we will help the people you expel. We have given Syrian citizens many billions of dollars and much more as necessary is on the way to have them remain abroad; we have promised Damascus to resettle some of them outside the Middle East. You don’t have to worry about them, although a few might come back to fight.
That is, of course, a cynical way of looking at the Syrian scene. The West and the regional countries have indeed saved millions of people. But the real costs to millions of people inside and outside of Syria and to the weak regional states helping fleeing Syrians have been enormous and the prospects for peace are as dismal as ever, whatever the incessant efforts of Mr. Brahimi. Until the situation on the ground is reversed or the Iranians change their tune, humanitarianism, however vital for millions as an essential band aid, is also a real contribution to Assad in helping feed his needy supporters but one that also permits us to assert we are really doing something to deal with the problem.