The earthquake that recently rocked Turkey and Syria measured 7.8 on the Richter scale but was off the charts on the scale of human misery, particularly in Syria. America, as a beacon of Western liberal values, must act now.
While the government in Damascus allows aid to enter the region through only one border crossing, it has been resistant to opening up aid into northern areas, where whole neighborhoods have toppled over, burying alive fathers, mothers, children, and infants. Those who have not been crushed alive are choking on dust in small air pockets that soon become due to poisonous carbon dioxide—the pollution expelled from the victim’s own lungs.
Then came the snowstorm, dropping temperatures to dangerous levels.
Neighbors clawed at the rubble with their bare hands, struggling to save the buried survivors as bitterly cold winds stung their hands and frustrated their sacrificial, saving acts.
Turkey, a NATO ally, has received promises of tens of millions in humanitarian aid. As for Syria, which suffered in the same earthquake, few are lining up to help. Syria’s allies, Russia and China, both with shrinking economies, have each made promises but have little capacity to bring immediate aid by air.
The Assad family regime, which rules Syria with an iron fist, is of course, despicable. Its brutal actions in that nation’s tragic civil are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the dispersal of millions of refugees. Syria is not a U.S. ally, and it is politically impossible for Washington to make a pact with Assad.
Meanwhile, other regions, said to be held by the “Syrian opposition” are, in reality, held by pro-Al Qaeda jihadist factions.
Still, what is politics to a starving infant that just lost her mother in the horrifying instant when the earth moved? What is politics to the stricken old man, watching his loved ones emerge from the mound of earthen blocks, dead—knowing that he will have to find some way to pay to bury them again?
President Joe Biden cannot claim to be a defender of universal liberal values and look away from these helpless children, their faces blackened by the dust of their former homes and their eyes clouded by tears as they hunt for relief from the immense suffering. And now comes the snow and the aftershocks.
It is outrageous for the people of one nation to be rescued by Western aid yet the people of a neighboring nation, who suffered the same calamity, are ignored.
Four million individuals in opposition-held northwest Syria live in appalling conditions with limited access to health care, food, or warm places to sleep. Something must be done.
The U.S.-led international community must immediately mobilize men, money, and materiel to support rescue and humanitarian efforts in northern Syria. The United States must also put pressure on the Assad government to allow humanitarian aid to flow freely to all areas affected by the earthquake, without political restrictions.
In order to regain the confidence of the Arab world, the United States has to prove by actions that the United States says what it means and means what it says.
Ahmed Charai is a Publisher. He is on the board of directors of the Atlantic Council, the International Crisis Group, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and the Center for the National Interest.
Image: Voice of America/Wikimedia Commons.