As the conflict in Syria continues to unfold, what is your stance on U.S. involvement?
I was an early opponent to military intervention in Syria. The atrocities of the Assad regime are crimes against humanity and in direct violation of international law. However, without an overt threat to our national security and without a clearly defined, achievable goal to end the Syrian people’s suffering, I find it difficult to justify engaging our military in another nation’s civil war with no clear endgame.
But I do not think we should ignore the plight of the Syrian people. The goal of the United States should be to bring stability and peace to the region. I am afraid that committing the United States to a military strike would have unintended consequences that fan the flames of war and increase the suffering of the Syrian people.
From day one, I have believed that diplomacy is the path we must relentlessly pursue, and I was heartened by President Barack Obama’s recent re-commitment to that path. Over the weekend, we took a big step forward in that process when Russia and the United States agreed on a plan to bring the Syrian chemical weapons under international control.
While I am hopeful that diplomacy will remove the threat posed by chemical weapons in Syria, I am still well aware that this is a complicated process that—at best—will only partially ease the pain of the Syrian people. Two years of civil war has torn the country apart, leaving millions of Syrians without a home and threatening the stability of the entire region.
The ongoing conflict in Syria has forced the displacement of more than 6.8 million people—almost one-third of the country’s population. Of those displaced, nearly 2 million refugees have fled to neighboring countries. The sudden influx of people has placed a severe strain on the resources of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, and other parts of North Africa.
Due to overcrowding, the capacity in many of the refugee camps is insufficient to meet the ever-rising humanitarian need and many are living outside of the camps. The problem continues to grow worse each day. Since January, an average of 200,000 refugees has fled Syria each month. Last week, the number of refugees crossing the Jordanian border increased tenfold to almost 900 people a day.
This large of a population of refugees and internally displaced people (those forced to flee their homes in Syria) is a threat to basic human rights and the stability of an already fragile Middle East. People displaced from their communities, without safe access to food, shelter or healthcare, are especially vulnerable to violence and recruitment by armed actors, among other threats of war. Poor living conditions and dwindling resources in the camps have created potential for further unrest beyond Syria’s borders.
The United States has already committed some aid but there is still much more that must be done. When our country put out the call to punish the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, the international community responded, and we are now working with Russia and the UN Security Council to develop a plan to peacefully remove the chemical weapons from Assad’s control.
Our bottom line can and should be peace, for the people of Syria and for the region as a whole. Those in Washington who believe the suffering of the Syrian people is cause for a military strike should also be advocating just as loudly for humanitarian aid.