Foreign Policy

As Syria burns, US ally feels the heat

Amman -- The people of Jordan have borne the Syrian refugee crisis with real grace - and even, perhaps, a bit of pride. “The Syrians are our brothers,” they say when asked about the thousands of Syrians who have fled here. (No one knows how many there really are.) “They speak the same way as us, they have the same last names. We cannot turn them away.””

In communities across the country, Jordanians have taken Syrian families into their homes and supported them. The government has also done its part by keeping the border open to Syrians, providing nearly-free health care to registered refugees, and placing thousands of Syrian children in the nation’s public schools. But they have done so because they see it as their duty, not because it’s been easy.

“At the time the Iraqi refugees arrived, we were doing okay here in Jordan,” one observer in Amman told me this week. “But the Syrians are coming at a terrible time.””

Indeed, while Jordan has dodged the worst convulsions of the Arab Spring, trouble abounds in this normally quiet country.


Syrian refugees in Lebanon escape violence, But hardship continues

LEBANON - In central Lebanon’s Beqa’a Valley, there is a series of border villages that are hosting ever-larger numbers of refugees from the conflict inside of Syria.  Exact figures are hard to come by - many of the refugees are too afraid to come forward and let their presence be known - but most estimates put the final number at well over 10,000 for this region of Lebanon alone.  A network of exhausted service providers and local government committees is scrambling to find the Syrians and make sure that their basic needs are met. But every day there are new arrivals who simply want to blend in and wait out the chaos from the comparative safety on this side of the border.


A call to action to feed the world

This is a very exciting time in agriculture. Over the past several years, the agriculture sector has been a bright spot in our nation’s economy. Science and technology are driving new solutions that are capable of making farmers more productive, agriculture more sustainable and food more nutritious. And, new partnerships are being created across the sector to address one of our globe’s most pressing challenges – feeding a growing population.

Amidst a full G8 Summit agenda covering a range of urgent global issues, President Obama called upon G8 leaders to take on this very task – to put global hunger at the forefront of the global development agenda.To this end, the administration announced a new initiative – the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition – building off the 2009 G8 L’Aquila Food Security Initiative.


A few miles from Houla, a massacre hits home

BEIRUT - Pulling into the Lebanese Army checkpoint at Wadi Khaled, bustling Beirut seemed a world away. Thick gray clouds hugged the mountainside, and a fierce wind whipped across the roadway. A text message on one of our cell phones welcomed us to Syria - an indication of just how close we were to that war-torn country.

It was a foreboding way for my Refugees International colleagues and me to start our afternoon in this remote region, where displacement and cross-border violence have become the norm in recent months. Villagers have been kidnapped, journalists have been shot at by Syrian border guards, and aid deliveries were briefly cut off this month as the violence escalated.


US taxpayers aid to UNRWA tops $10 billion

A battle erupted on Capitol Hill over the mandate of the organization charged with disbursing international aid to Palestinian refugees. Last week, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) challenged the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for including the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of Palestinian refugees among those who qualify for support. The addition of these descendants has inflated the numbers of refugees on UNRWA’s books from 750,000 in 1949 to 5 million today, making the problem nearly impossible to solve.


Safe zones needed on Syria's borders

After three stalled diplomatic attempts to stop Syrian President Bashar Assad's government from killing thousands of unarmed civilians, it's time for the international community to intervene. The United States should partner with its allies to establish safe zones on the borders of countries neighboring Syria.

Since popular demonstrations began more than a year ago, Syria's democracy movement has evolved into a national uprising. Like their counterparts in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Syrians took to the streets to demand political reforms. In response, the Assad regime has offered lip service to reform but in fact has confronted peaceful protesters with military force and a campaign of atrocities.


'UNRWA reform' effort will harm Middle East peace effort

Israel’s friends in Washington are at it again, working to discredit the United Nations and its specialized agencies in the Middle East. Last October, the chief target of their wrath was the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) because its member states admitted Palestine as a member after more than two-thirds rejected American intimidation and chose to vote in favor. In response, and after much pressure from pro-Israel groups and U.S. Congress, the Obama Administration announced that it would eliminate its funding to UNESCO – crippling the organization. This time the chief target of the pro-Israel lobby’s wrath is the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) that was established in 1949 to provide assistance and protection for the now 5 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza, who had fled or been expelled during the hostilities when Israel was established in 1948.


Lebanon is close to tipping point

BEIRUT - Lebanon is a country of tremendous complexity. But the country's mood today can probably be summed up in one word: tense. It may not seem that way to tourists in Beirut, where the mix of cosmopolitan nightlife and Mediterranean views is enough to keep any visitor occupied. But residents say that the bars are not as busy as they once were. Soldiers are patrolling streets where they would have been absent a few months before. More and more people are arming themselves, and have been using those arms in clashes in Beirut and Tripoli.

Some claim that this does not represent a trend: "This is Lebanon," they say, "these things just happen sometimes." But many more are genuinely worried - and their worries are rooted across the border in Syria. Looking at their giant neighbor, they see horrendous violence that shows no signs of stopping, a failing UN monitoring mission, and rising militancy on both sides. They also see a country on which they have depended - economically, politically, and militarily - for decades, and whose problems could very quickly become their own.


EU and US - Strategic partners in peace and security

The majority of the world's current crises take place within a 7-hour flight from Brussels. From the Balkans to North Africa and the Middle East, the world faces wide-ranging challenges that require different nuanced responses in each situation. The European Union has taken the lead in responding to many of these "hot zones" through a mix of civilian and military crisis management and conflict prevention operations as part of our Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP).

Thousands of EU personnel are currently staffing 13 active peace-keeping missions around the world in fragile states. Civilian missions help train police in Afghanistan, establish the rule of law in Iraq, and contribute to Kosovo’s efforts to develop an independent and multi-ethnic justice system and police and customs services. Military operations have helped stabilize conflict zones in the Western Balkans and parts of Africa. Our most important naval operation to date—EUNAVFOR Atalanta—helps deter, prevent, and repress acts of piracy and armed robbery on the high seas and protects vulnerable vessels cruising off the Somali coast.


Why U.S. Senate should ratify Law of the Sea Treaty

What do Somali pirates, polar bears and the Chinese government have in common? Aside from reasons to resent the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, not a whole lot.

The treaty, also known as UNCLOS, forms the legal foundation under which Somali pirates are prosecuted, regulates activity in the polar bear’s habitat as it melts, and undercuts the territorial claims behind the Chinese government’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea. And with the heads of the Defense and State Departments, along with the U.S.’s highest-ranking military officer, lobbying the Senate on Wednesday to take up the treaty, this week marked the beginning of the Obama Administration’s official push to ratify the treaty once and for all.