Sunday, February 17, 2013

US Aid in Syria

The refugee crisis created by the ongoing civil war in Syria has grown to one of giant proportions as aid workers from all over the world struggle to keep up.  Within the last two months US State Department officials claim that there has been an increase in the number of refugees fleeing Syria, with an estimated 800,000 refugees that are now housed in the neighboring counties of Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq.  However, there also exist a sizeable number of refugees within Syria itself.  In response the US has pledged more than $365m in foreign aid, more than half of which will go to refugees within Syria to provide clean water, food and medical care among other things.

The problem lies in the distribution of the aid.  While the Syrian government has recently allowed aid into part of the country previously impassible, many displaced people remain unreachable.  While officials push for more access in Syria, some in Washington, such as Senator Chris Coon, believe that if humanitarian assistance were distributed through the Syrian opposition council, it could be distributed more effectively and could serve to strengthen the opposition’s credibility.  Currently US aid is not distributed through the Syrian opposition, because as others claim, it is “not built as an organization to deliver aid”.  Funneling aid through the Syrian opposition would signal a high level of trust on the part of the U.S., which could be beneficial in post-Assad Syria if the Syrian opposition council takes over.  However the US should also be weary of the possibility that members of the Syrian opposition might use the aid for personal gain, or to fund the war.

In relation to what we have discussed in class regarding overthrowing a regime in violent or nonviolent manner, Syria is a prime example of the negative effects of a violent campaign.  Because Syrian opposition groups chose to use violent tactics attempt to overthrow Assad, a relatively small portion of the Syrian population can participate due mostly to physical and moral constraints.  Without this large public participation, Syria was launched into a long and bloody civil war.  In addition, violent tactics have been met with retaliation by the Assad regime, resulting in mass killings of civilians as well as a refugee crisis.  Regarding aid, under these conditions rebel leaders have incentives to provide private benefits for current or prospective members.  If aid is funnel through these opposition groups, it is hard to determine if it will actually be used as intended.

Currently in Syria the Assad regime is greatly weakened and has all but lost international legitimacy.  The U.S. has recognized the Syrian opposition council as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, but it should not be so quick to trust the council with distribution of millions of dollars’ worth of humanitarian assistance until it knows that the aid will be distributed properly.


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