National Catholic Register


Syria at the Abyss: Not Our Problem?

The Washington Post editorial board proposes that Obama threaten a U.S. military strike to force Assad to allow the flow of aid to starving and sick children.

BY Joan Desmond

| Posted 10/29/13 at 3:46 PM


The Washington Post editorial board has denounced the Obama administration's refusal to intervene in the Syrian civil war, noting recent media reports alleging that the Assad regime is withholding vital emergency relief from internallly displaced people. The editorial board notes Secretary of State Kerry's public denunciation of Assad's

"systematic denial of medical assistance, food supplies and other humanitarian aid to huge proportions of the population.” The regime’s tactics, he said, “threaten to take a humanitarian disaster into the abyss.” They are “intolerable,” and “the world must act quickly.”

So what does the Obama administration propose to do to stop this barbarism? The simple answer is: nothing, other than issue strongly worded statements. 


Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that Christian neighborhoods in Damascus are increasingly under attack from rebel shelling and that members of this religious minority fear that extremist opposiiton fighters are targetting Christians.

Further, the long distruption of routine life in Syria has now led to a polio outbreak among Syrian children, confirmed on Oct. 29 by the United Nations, which is preparing to innoculate over 2 million children. There are fears that the constant movement of families fleeing the violence of war within Syria and beyond its borders could result in the rapid spread of the disease.  

However, the Post editorial quotes Valerie Amos, the United Nations’ humanitarian chief, who says that  

some 2.5 million people are beyond the reach of aid, including 290,000 trapped in areas besieged by government forces. There are credible reports of children dying of starvation in the suburbs of Damascus, The Post’s Loveday Morris reported Sunday. Diseases are spreading, including scarlet fever.

The White House's refusal to move beyond diplomatic engagement and rhetorical denunciations of the Assad government reflects, at least in part, the difficult options available. Further, the majority of Americans are deeply skeptical about any U.S. role in the Syrian conflict, and  Church leaders in Syria and abroad oppose U.S. military invtervention for both ethical and practical reaspons.

But the Post's  editorial argues that 

the United States is probably the only naiton that could rescue Syria's offering Mr. Assad the same vhoice on hunaitarian access that it gave him on giving up chemical weapons: Do it or face a campaign of airstriekes.

Thus far, the White House shows no signs of considering any such proposal, and so the editorial condemns the narrow, pragmatic principles governing the administration's wary engagement with Syria. The Post blames Washington's inaction on 

President Obama’s radical retrenchment of U.S. policy in the Middle East this fall. In a speech to the United Nations, Mr. Obama dismissed Syria as “someone else’s civil war” and asserted that the United States would act unilaterally or militarily in the region only if a narrow set of “core interests” were threatened. The free flow of oil was on the list; prevention of mass murder was not.

Should Washington threaten a military strike to force Assad to allow humanitarian assistance to reach starving and sick people? When one recalls most Syrians' strong opposition to the proposed U.S. strike to deter use of chemical weapons, it's hard to imagine that they would endorse the editorial board's suggestion. But the situation grews more desperate every day, and thus it is difficult to predict what plan Syrians may ultimately endorse in hopes of alleviating the suffering of innocents, even if it doens't result in an end to the conflict.

But whether or not one agrees with the Post's proposal for a military strike to aid needy Syrians, every American citizens should consider whether the editorial board has raised an important, if inconvenient question for Americans who have grown tired of serving as the world's policeman. Should our vast power be reserved to protect our energy security?  Is that the American way? 

Time, now, for more prayer that solutions can be found to help those threatened with hunger, disease and violence this winter.