04 Dec 2014

Does the objective of international intervention in Syria have anything at all to do with helping Syrians? While an international coalition of countries has rushed to coordinate airstrikes against the country in the name of humanitarianism, it seems that these acts of aerially-conducted benevolence are failing to forestall a much bigger crisis facing the Syrian people. Namely, the fact that Syrian refugees are running out of food: “A funding crisis has forced the World Food Program to suspend assistance to 1.7 million Syrian refugees, the U.N. agency announced Monday, warning that “many families will go hungry” without the aid.” “The suspension of WFP food assistance will be disastrous for many already suffering families,” Ertharin Cousin, the agency’s executive director, said in a statement. The shortfall has been attributed to “unfulfilled donor commitments,” and means that millions of Syrians could potentially be facing the winter months without even the most basic sustenance. But what, precisely, constitutes this catastrophic funding crisis which has now resulted in the suspension of food aid to displaced Syrians this winter? The miserly sum of $64 million dollars. To put this into context, the United States and its allies are spending millions and perhaps tens of millions dollars every day on bombing Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq. A Pentagon estimate concluded as early as October that the campaign against the group had already cost upwards of $1 billion dollars, including an estimated $10 million per day starting August 8. Ignoring the staggering logistical costs of such an operation, the cost of the ammunition use on the first night of bombing the country would have been almost enough to cover food aid to Syrians: “On the first night of the strikes in Syria, the United States also fired 47 Tomahawk missiles, which cost more than $1 million each, higher for more advanced models.” A recent New Yorker piece also mentioned the incredible sums which are at this very moment being expended on simply flying jets over the country: “…operating a B-1 bomber costs fifty-eight thousand dollars an hour. F-15E fighter bombers exceed thirty-nine thousand dollars an hour. And the new F-22 Raptor, used for the first time in combat against ISIS in Syria, costs three hundred and fifty million dollars—plus sixty-eight thousand dollars an hour in the air.” In other words, the cost of flying over the country for a single day and bombing it – actions which are already believed to have killed many Syrian civilians – would have been enough to provide continuing food aid to millions of refugees for the country. “Humanitarian intervention” in this context has come to be nothing more than a crude euphemism for the act of bombing. A far more impactful, less morally ambiguous, and incredibly cheaper form of “intervening” would be to provide desperately needed aid to a displaced civilian population facing a true humanitarian emergency. Instead, political and military figures continue to expend huge sums on munitions and military logistics based on the disingenuous claim that they are “helping” the population which is being bombed. Needless to say, if this intervention had anything to do with helping Syrians its overwhelming priority would be providing aid to refugees, and most crucially providing them asylum as well. But on both these counts, the United States and its coalition have been doing poorly. This abysmal state of affairs more or less falsifies the claim that the military campaign in Syria is in any significant way motivated by benevolent or humanitarian concerns. As one Syrian anti-regime activist earlier this year put it: “We are tired of people saying they are coming to help us, and then they kill us.”