“The State Department and USAID are increasing their humanitarian aid for Syria but have no intention of moving any of that money through the Syrian opposition coalition, as several senators have called for,” The Cable’s Josh Rogin reports:
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, Assistant Secretary for Populations, Refugees, and Migration Anne Richard, and USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg just returned from a trip to Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait. In Kuwait, they pledged $155 million of additional U.S. humanitarian aid to help alleviate the suffering caused by the Syrian civil war, bringing the total U.S. aid commitment to $365 million.
Richard and Lindborg said on a Wednesday conference call with reporters that State and USAID don’t work through government structures and therefore won’t be dispersing any of that aid through the Syrian Opposition Council, which President Barack Obama has recognized as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
“We don’t provide humanitarian assistance through other governments anywhere globally,” said Lindborg.
Last month, seven U.S. senators from both parties traveled to some of the same refugee camps and met with the Syrian opposition coalition leaders, Rogin continues, after which they publicly called for the U.S. government to funnel some aid through the opposition leadership in order to bolster their legitimacy and credibility.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) called for the “significant” humanitarian assistance from the US to be distributed “in ways that strengthen the credibility and the reach and the effectiveness of the Syrian opposition council.”
Syrian democracy advocates and independent analysts have argued that moderate opposition factions are being outflanked by radical Islamist forces, which receive weapons, money and non-lethal assistance from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and independent Islamic charities.
Channeling assistance through the opposition would represent what former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter called “the happy medium between not committing us to a decades-long ground war and choosing not to do anything.” A board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, she has been an eloquent advocate of US intervention in Syria.
“The moderates are the majority of people here in Syria, but now they are decreasing without any support,” one activist said. “If it continues like it is now, extremist groups will have a lot of influence after the Assad government falls.”
The failure to use moderate forces as a conduit for U.S. humanitarian aid “risks leaving Iran and radical Sunni Islamists to exploit human suffering for recruitment purposes,” say two leading analysts.
“Aid channeled through the opposition council, in coordination with credible international nonprofit organizations, should provide for millions who have been displaced,” according tothe Carnegie Endowment’s Karim Sadjadpour and Firas Maksad, director of New Policy Advisors:
A nascent rebel joint military command, working under the opposition council, would allow anti-regime forces to better coordinate operations and steer fighters away from jihadi ideology, and could lay the foundation for a future national army. Military assistance, direct from the U.S. or through regional allies, must flow through this joint command. Doing so will afford moderates a better chance to succeed against both the Iranian-backed militias and the growing numbers of Sunni jihadists who are fighting in Syria.
“A greater U.S. role won’t render Syria an American-allied democracy. That possibility, if it ever existed, has long been lost,” Sadjadpour and Maksad contend.
“But continued U.S. inaction risks leaving Syria at the mercy of Iran and Sunni extremists whose intolerance, and hatred of the U.S., dwarfs any concerns they may have for the well- being of Syria and its people.”
Nevertheless, while the State Department has a full-time liaison with the opposition’s assistance coordination unit in Turkey to help them enhance their capabilities, Rogin notes on Foreign Policy’s The Cable, it is not considered an appropriate channel for U.S. humanitarian aid.
“Aid is supposed to be delivered not based on one’s political beliefs or which side one’s picking in a war, or which faction one belongs to, but based on need. We want to work with them, but right now they’re not built as an organization to deliver aid,” Richard said.
The United Nations distributes most of its aid via the Damascus-based Syrian Arab Red Crescent which operates largely in government-controlled areas, a supply line the Avaaz activist network describes as an “insane and immoral handout” to the regime.