Will Syria be Obama's Rwanda?
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TV screens show us slaughter and ruins in Syria. In real time, we watch Aleppo conquered. Cellphone videos thanking supporters and saying goodbye go viral. Heartbreaking last tweets are retweeted and retweeted.

Yet the U.S. government turns its head away.

What has happened to Congress and the president? In mid-November, a package of sanctions against people and institutions assisting in the human rights horrors in Syria passed the House without opposition. It went on to the Senate, but then nothing at all happened.

How could that be?

Certainly, Republicans hearing Trump's message could be behind the stopping of it, but how could it happen silently without any Democratic opposition?


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They read their daily intelligence briefings. Are they paralyzed by Trump or are they working on their future libraries?

If not sanctions, why not food and supplies? A few weeks ago, the U.N. said 1 million were under siege in Syria. Madaya, where in January skeletal images of children shocked the world, is again totally sealed off. The last U.N. food shipment to that city was contaminated at Syrian government/Iranian checkpoints by broken glass and animal feces.

In fact, there are U.N. airdrops in Syria, but only to one city: Deir Ezzor. It's an Assad-controlled area surrounded by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Syrian President Bashar Assad has planes; the Russians have an air force. They could supply Deir Ezzor on their own, but they're happy to have the U.N. do it. As for the other Syrians, they get nothing from the air. The U.N.'s World Food Program (WFP) delivers food in emergencies. I spoke to a World Food Program (WFP) representative about this in November and was told the WFP had attached pallets to parachutes and had airdropped them to Deir Ezzor 153 times, but that other areas in Syria didn't have the empty space to do these airdrops safely.

Yet there are other techniques to send in supplies. Since 2006, the U.S. military has been using JPADS (Joint Precision Airdrop System). They use a GPS for precise navigation. These could be used to break the illegal sieges. Undoubtedly, these were some of the means the U.S. secretary of the Air Force had in mind when in January she said the U.S. was ready to airdrop in Syria.

It is not too late. Much of Syria is still free of Assad and ISIS forces. If those areas could be adequately supplied with the necessaries of life, Syrians there could survive and eventually Russia and Iran could end their adventure in Syria. Syrians could work out Syria's future by themselves.

Despite the beliefs of conspiracists, the uprising of tens of thousands of Syrians in 2011 was not another U.S. plot. The U.S. had just reestablished full relations with Syria that year. As Assad forces mowed protesters down in the streets, the U.S. and the Saudis and Gulf kingdoms stood on the sidelines.

Then, in the late summer, the U.S. acted with a muddled, contradictory policy, allowing the Saudis and Turks to send in some weapons chiefly to Islamic units, hoping Assad would step aside while his cronies could stay in power. When ISIS emerged, all efforts were spent fighting them exclusively. Hundreds of millions were wasted on trying to create a Syrian force that would fight ISIS while ignoring what Assad was doing to their own families. Of course, it collapsed.

Do we think this all won't come back to haunt us?

A revived Assad dynasty means millions of Syrians will never go home. More refugees will stream out of Syria. How many in the Middle East and within our borders will be seduced by the messages of the extremists, those who say that the West's preachings about law and human rights are a sham and that the only answer is fanatical violence?

There are some similarities here with Rwanda in 1994. The U.N. and the nations of the West were not the perpetrators of the genocide, but they looked on with ineptitude or indifference at the months of slaughter.

Will future generations learn that, at the very last minute, the Obama administration took action and saved hundreds of thousands of lives in Syria, or will part of the president's legacy be known as "Obama's Rwanda"?

Stanley Heller is administrator of Promoting Enduring Peace. He is a retired school teacher, a trade unionist and an active commentator on Middle East issues since the 1980s. He can be reached at stanley.heller@pepeace.org.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.