The (new) The New Republic sits down with President Obama for a rather wide ranging interview. Publisher and owner Chris Hughes asks a poignant question about Syria. Obama responds with a series of uncomfortable questions of his own.
CH: The last question is about Syria. I wonder if you can speak about how you personally, morally, wrestle with the ongoing violence there.
Every morning, I have what’s called the PDB—presidential daily briefing—and our intelligence and national security teams come in here and they essentially brief me on the events of the previous day. And very rarely is there good news. And a big chunk of my day is occupied by news of war, terrorism, ethnic clashes, violence done to innocents. And what I have to constantly wrestle with is where and when can the United States intervene or act in ways that advance our national interest, advance our security, and speak to our highest ideals and sense of common humanity.
And as I wrestle with those decisions, I am more mindful probably than most of not only our incredible strengths and capabilities, but also our limitations. In a situation like Syria, I have to ask, can we make a difference in that situation? Would a military intervention have an impact? How would it affect our ability to support troops who are still in Afghanistan? What would be the aftermath of our involvement on the ground? Could it trigger even worse violence or the use of chemical weapons? What offers the best prospect of a stable post-Assad regime? And how do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?
Those are not simple questions. And you process them as best you can. You make the decisions you think balance all these equities, and you hope that, at the end of your presidency, you can look back and say, I made more right calls than not and that I saved lives where I could, and that America, as best it could in a difficult, dangerous world, was, net, a force for good. [emphasis mine]
It would appear that the White House believes that intervening in Syria at this point could do more harm than good (a position I tend to support). President Obama’s response should put to rest any speculation that the USA will pursue some Libya-style intervention in Syria.
Still, there is deep moral urgency to “do something” to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people. Syria today is the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet. 60,000 people have already been killed; politics is stuck at he international level; and the fighting is intensifying on the ground. The conflict is affecting 4 million people across the region; there are over 650,000 refugees in neighboring countries; and two million people internally displaced.
So what can be done?
One concrete way to fulfill our basic moral obligations to the Syrian people without falling into the trap of military intervention is to bring a big checkbook to Kuwait on Wednesday when international donors meet for the International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria. Relief organizations like UNICEF, the Word Food Program, The Red Crescent, Save the Children and others need a total of $1.5 billion to provide for the humanitarian needs of people inside Syria and refugees in neighboring countries over the next six months. These funds go to feeding, clothing, sheltering, and providing other basic needs of an uprooted population.
The USA was the single largest donor to the Syrian humanitarian response last year, giving over $208 million. Now, the needs are greater than ever, so the donations need to pick up pace accordingly.
Those who clamor for humanitarian intervention in the name of the Syrian people ought to be vocally supporting a robust response to the humanitarian crisis. In the near term, that means coming to Kuwait with an open wallet. This is the most direct way to help the Syrian people in the near term.