- By John HudsonJohn Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013.
Doing a thankless job is one thing. But doing a thankless job that benefits your sworn enemy is another.
In Syria, where the United States has contributed a total of $385 million in humanitarian aid, almost none of the Syrians receiving aid know it’s bankrolled by U.S. taxpayers, according to the Washington Post’s Liz Sly. Even worse, some Syrians believe the assistance is provided by the al-Nusra Front, the State Department-listed terrorist group that recently swore allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Here’s an example of one such Syrian:
"America has done nothing for us. Nothing at all," said Mohammed Fouad Waisi, 50, spitting out the words for emphasis in his small Aleppo grocery store, which adjoins a bakery where he buys bread every day. The bakery is fully supplied with flour paid for by the United States. But Waisi credited Jabhat al-Nusra – a rebel group the United States has designated a terrorist organization because of its ties to al-Qaeda – with providing flour to the region, though he admitted he wasn’t sure where it comes from.
"If America considers itself a friend of Syria, it should start to do something," he said.
Here’s an example of another embittered Syrian:
"America is our number one enemy," fumed Ali Mahmoud al-Kak, 43, an unemployed taxi driver, as he bought bread at another of the Aleppo bakeries supplied entirely with flour paid for by the United States.
All of this anger exists despite the fact that U.S.-purchased flour has fed 210,000 people per day and U.S.-purchased blankets have helped 168,000 people sleep. (It’s also worth mentioning that the United States is providing training and communications equipment to rebels and helping coordinate the flow of foreign weapons to opposition fighters.) According to Sly’s report, the United States can’t advertise its contributions because of security concerns.
But this is by no means the first time Syrians have vented bitter frustrations with the United States to the press. In a memorable interview by NPR’s Kelly McEvers last year, the grieving sister of a killed Syrian rebel declared that the United States would pay dearly for not providing more help. "We won’t forget this," the woman said. "When we control Syria, we won’t forget that you forgot about us."
Interestingly, this idea that a post-Assad Syria could take vengeance on the United States has also played a significant role in public debates about whether Washington should increase its military support of the rebels. The primary proponent of this thinking is Arizona Senator John McCain, who told his colleagues last month that the United States should consider the potential blowback of not intervening. Here are his floor remarks:
The conflict in Syria is breeding a lost generation – a whole new generation of extremists. Earlier this year, I met a Syrian teacher in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan who told me that the generation of young Syrians growing up in these camps, and inside Syria, will take revenge on those who did nothing to help them in their hour of greatest need. We should be ashamed of our collective failure to come to the aid of the Syrian people. But more than that, we should be deeply, deeply concerned. And as much as I want to disagree with that Syrian teacher, I am haunted by the belief that she is exactly right.
Of course, there’s also another side of the coin, as the National Interest’s Nikolas Gvosdev pointed out in response to McCain:
If the United States were to intervene in Syria on behalf of the rebellion, and actively begin killing Syrians, what guarantee is there that the "next generation" of those killed and wounded by American action would not take revenge themselves? Certainly after a U.S. intervention, the losing side in the Syrian civil war-the Alawites-would also have an incentive to "take revenge" on America for their defeat and dispossession. Particularly given their past as a secretive, insular community, they would be well poised to retreat to their mountain strongholds. They could pass on to their children a desire to take vengeance for their loss unless the United States were to intervene on the ground to separate and secure the various Syrian communities and protect them against the excesses of the Sunni majority.
Clearly, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. The question is which damnation is worse.