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The violent uprising in Syria has produced some predictable and sorry results. Aside from the numbers of people dying prematurely as a result of the fighting, there are tens of thousands of Syrian civilians, consisting mostly women and children, both inside and outside of Syria who are suffering from the war. This suffering does not choose sides, both opponents and supporters of the Asad government have become victims. Their sympathies matter not as much as the amount of help they need, no matter whose side they’re on.
In the refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, Syrians who have been driven from their homes by the fighting are not only near starvation, but are suffering from the cold weather with little help from warm clothing, kerosene for heaters, or any other comforts. The international agencies are overwhelmed and are without enough money to feed and clothe them.
Inside Syria, commerce has come to a standstill. Farmers have no money for planting seeds, and even so, there are no markets for the food they could produce even if given the money to plant and to harvest. Trying to send produce to market, provided they have something to sell, is a suicide mission, as it’s much too dangerous to travel the roads.
My wife, who is of Syrian origin, and whose family are farmers, has learned that her siblings give whatever heating oil they can find to their mother so she can find some warmth. Most Syrian civilians do what they can to help their neighbors and their families who are in need, but it’s more than a matter of money. There simply is not enough bread and heating oil to go around, leaving a large part of the country wanting for the necessities of life.
The United States government has imposed sanctions on Syria, and, like most sanctions placed on someone perceived to be an enemy of the United States, only the population suffers, not the leaders who have displeased our government. What is unconscionable is the punishment of a people who have had no beef with the United States.
And conceding that the Asad government is a dictatorship, the rebels that President Obama and Secretary Clinton are supporting are, with some exceptions, allied with Al Qaeda. Our government’s grand pronouncement that we have withdrawn recognition of one of the groups–the Al Nusra Front–because they are radical jihadists is nothing more than hot air. Despite this “non-recognition,” these jihadists as well as other jihadist groups are still fighting alongside the non-jihadists and the suffering of the civilian population continues.
At least, the Asad government insures equal rights for women, and does not interfere with the religious preference of Sryians. The same cannot be said for the groups who are trying to overthrow the Asad government, as Syria would regress to the 13th century with a jihadist overthrow. The Muslim Brotherhood, one of the jihadist groups seeking overthrow voices a slogan, “Alawites to the tomb, and Christians to Beirut.” Alawites are an offshoot of the Shiite sect of Islam, and are more progressive than either the Sunnis or the Shiites.
As recently as two or three years ago, the people of Syria admired the United States. A great many Syrians, like other Middle Easterners, have voted with their feet by trying to emigrate to this country. I’m not sure that this is still the case, given the extreme suffering US policy has inflicted upon them. Although it may not be widely known that our government is both arming and funding the rebels and the jihadists through Qatar and Saudi Arabia, it is no secret over there. We have also sent troops to Turkey to man the missile batteries we have sent to Turkey.
Destroying the Asad government is a way for the United States to attempt to weaken Iran, but in the process our government is destroying the lives of countless numbers of Syrians who had, at one time, been friendly to us.
Not only has Syria never sent out any terrorists from Syria to damage the US, the Asad government a few years ago actually uncovered more than one secret Al Qaeda plots to damage American interests in the Middle East. Asad turned over the information to the US government, which was then able to prevent the plots from coming to fruition. Our government’s actions against Syria today bring forth a statement Gore Vidal once made, that, “no good deed goes unpunished.”
The United States government can bring an end to the suffering of Syrian civilians by ending its interference, first in Syria, then overall, throughout the Middle East, which not only costs us both too many lives and too much money but creates more enemies for this country.
JAMES ABOUREZK is a former U.S. Senator from South Dakota. He is the author of Advise & Dissent: Memoirs of South Dakota and the U.S. Senate, a memoir now available on Amazon’s Kindle and soon to be republished by University of Nebraska’s Bison Press. His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article will also appear in the February issue of Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.