Challenging those who might think he is simply ideologically opposed to providing “safe zones” for Syrian refugees rather than watching them risk their lives and dying to escape the ongoing war and massive death toll from it, American President Barak Obama told Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel and gathered media that it is more of a “practical issue” for him.
“One thing I do want to say with respect to Syria,” said Obama in the attached video from Reuters, “we all care deeply about the tragic humanitarian crises in Syria. The issue surrounding a safe zone in Syrian territory is not a matter of an ideological objection on my part. It’s not a matter of me not wishing I could help and protect a whole bunch of people. It’s a very practical issue [of] how do you do it?”
No Action, Talk Only?
The President said also that he rather believes in more talk and process. “As a practical matter, sadly, it is very difficult to see how it would operate short of us essentially being willing to militarily take over a big chunk of that country, and creating a situation in which we could protect all the people inside of Syria. The best bet for doing that is to get this political process on track, a transition on track so that all the parties can safely lay down their arms and create the kind of inclusive representational government that Syria so desperately needs.”
Chancellor Merkel is supportive of the revived proposal for a safe zone inside Syria, according to media accounts. Over at theGuardian, writer Patrick Wintour quotes Merkel in February stating that such a zone would help. “In the current situation it would be helpful if there could be such an area where none of the parties are allowed to launch aerial attacks – that is to say, a kind of no-fly zone.”
Refugees might have more opportunities near their homes, according to some proponents of the safe zones. Chancellor Merkel is quoted April 24 by alJazeera as calling for “zones where the ceasefire is particularly enforced and where a significant level of security can be guaranteed,” but there should be a no-fly zone as well.
Stronger leadership is being called for by some. Nicholas Burns, a professor at Harvard University and former U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs from 2005 to 2008, as well as James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2010 to 2012, are among those, per their opinion piece in the WashingtonPost. “The brutal Syrian civil war has reached a crisis point,” they write, “with more than 250,000 dead and 12 million Syrians homeless. The cancer of this war has metastasized into neighboring countries and the heart of Europe. It could destabilize the Middle East for a generation.”
The two go on to say that talks are good, but more action is in order. “… Obama and Kerry must also consider stronger measures to protect millions of civilians at risk, including establishing humanitarian corridors to reach those subjected to air assaults by the government and attacks by terrorist groups on the ground. Most important, we believe the Obama team will have to reconsider what it has rejected in the past: the creation of a safe zone in northern Syria to protect civilians, along with a no-fly zone to enforce it.”
A zone proposal
Professor Burns and former Ambassador Jeffrey have suggestions, as well. “The White House could press Russia, as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, to help organize and protect the zone. The zone would be far more durable and credible with Russian support, and if Russia rejected the proposal — as it probably would — the administration and its partners would be in a much stronger position to take the initiative themselves.”
There are benefits to having a safe zone in place as well they believe. “It would be the most effective way to support Syrian civilians and to diminish the flow of refugees to neighboring countries and Europe. It would strengthen our ability to work closely with our key regional NATO ally, Turkey, which has long advocated this step. For the first time, it would restrict the operations of the rampaging Syrian air force — the largest killer of civilians in the conflict. It would also hinder the use of military power by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah against the resistance.”
President Obama came to Germany to “lend Merkel his backing as she faces political blowback over her stance on refugees fleeing war in Syria,” according to Kevin Liptak at CNN. Liptak quotes Obama’s praise of Merkel’s “moral fortitude.” In opening German borders to over a million migrants, said Obama, “[s]he’s on the right side of history on this.”
Germany has suffered a lot, as noted previously in a story. But it seems a good thing that Obama appreciates that pain. Perhaps Merkel might find the words to encourage her friend Obama to also take a moral step forward and consider the suggestions offered already for achieving the safe zone and easing the pain since he insists it is not simply “an ideological objection” on his part.