On World Humanitarian Day, I find myself extremely frustrated with number of seemingly endless atrocities happening around the world. Conflicts are killing individuals, destroying communities, and displacing millions. On a day that marks those who seek to make people’s lives better, I wonder why there are so many individuals who seek to make others’ lives worse.
Then I remember a quote from Mr. Rogers that has always stuck with me: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” But, situations like the crisis in Syria need more than just helpers, they need fundamental change.
The recent video of Omran Daqneesh, a five year-old boy from Aleppo, Syria shows the immense suffering of the Syrian people. It shook us. His shell-shocked eyes staring ahead wide open. Not a single tear shed. While that video was difficult to watch, it is even more difficult to comprehend the fact that Omran has known nothing but war. His short five years of life have been spent living through the chaos of conflict that has been plaguing Syria since 2011.
The video also showed the tremendous effort of so many “helpers”, humanitarians who saved Omran and so many like him. You see these rescue workers in Syria every day. The White Helmets, a volunteer rescue group in Syria, are credited with saving the lives of tens of thousands, and were recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Unfortunately, their efforts are not enough. As of the doctors who treated Omran said, “We’ve had millions of sad stories because the war continues to kill innocent people.” And until this war is brought to an end we will continue to have millions of sad stories.
The Syrian crisis is complex, messy, and extremely fluid. One thing, however, remains clear: war by itself will not bring peace to Syria. The current military strategy of the United States (US) to focus much, if not all, of its attention and air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) is not working. What’s worse, airstrikes by the US and Russia are adding to the civilian death toll and the displacement of countless Syrians. Just one US airstrike last month is said to have killed upwards of 100 people, including entire families as they fled ISIS militants. Russian-led airstrikes are estimated to have killed more civilians in the last 11 months than ISIS has killed since 2013. And by almost all accounts, President Bashar al-Assad and his regime have killed and displaced far more civilians and caused more destruction to Syria than ISIS.
In order for peace to be achieved in Syria, a strong united international effort must be mobilized against Assad and ISIS. The last US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, who resigned his position due to the lack of comprehensive policy in Syria said this week, “The Islamic State is a problem, but the Islamic State came out of the broader problem of the Syrian civil war. And it really isn’t going to be solved outside the context, outside a larger solution to the Syrian civil war. The Obama administration’s myopic focus on the Islamic State while leaving the larger Syrian civil war unanswered, in a sense, is trying to fix with a military hammer a deeper political problem.”
For the Obama administration to be truly humanitarian, and make the lives of the Syrian people better, the President must employ a more comprehensive approach to resolving the crisis in Syria. An approach which seeks to effect change at all levels must include: addressing the drivers of the conflict, developing a political process to end the civil war, getting Assad to step down, tackling the root causes of issues that allow for groups like ISIS to gain traction, improving the humanitarian situation, and rebuilding Syria after conflict is abated.
This message from the Syrian American Medical Society is extremely clear: action is needed to bring this war to an end.
We need your help to send this humanitarian plea to President Obama. We have started a White House petition asking the President to develop a comprehensive strategy for Syria. We need 100,000 signatures by September 18th in order for the White House to respond to us. Sign the petition. Share it with your community and friends. Pressure the White House to act.