Friday, July 29, 2011

Fox News: Should We Starve Syrians into Submission?

Posted at the Fox News site by George Russell (Fox News executive editor) is a report seemingly intended to skewer the United Nations for its decision to extend several of its programs in Syria.  Russell seems to be horrified that, at a time when the US and "other Western democracies" have imposed sanctions on the Asad regime to pressure it into stepping down, the UN is moving ahead to continue to provide assistance that will be administered through the government of Syria.  How dare they! 

Russell's stance jives quite well, of course, with that of frequent Fox News commentator - and former US ambassador to the UN - John Bolton, whose disdain for the UN - especially while he was an official in it - has never been in doubt.  Bolton never made a secret of his belief that the UN needed to be gutted as punishment for its failures to promote US hegemony across the planet.

Striking in Russell's piece is his admission that a large proportion of the UN's assistance to Syria is economic - much of it related to providing food and medical care.

Most of UNFPA’s [U.N. Population Fund] current programming, according to an agency spokesman, even while becoming more focused on emergency issues during the current crisis, focuses on maternity care and health, as well as contraceptive and “reproductive health care.”. . . .

The World Food Program, for example, which operates more as an emergency relief agency, has three different programs in Syria offering assistance to just under 669,000 people. . . .

Asked directly by Fox News to confirm the most recent U.N. program extension in Syria, a spokesman for UNDP [United Nations Development Program] sidestepped the question, noting instead that “U.N. regular operations have slowed down significantly due to the situation on the ground,” as have UNDP operations.

Otherwise, he said, “U.N. agencies are providing humanitarian support in response to the crisis including providing health and child protection services, food and nutrition, hygiene kits and psychosocial support.” Additionally, “other joint activities with direct impact on the vulnerable and poor are continuing though at a much slower pace.”

Among those continuing activities are a joint UNDP and UNFPA program to “monitor the social aid fund of cash assistance to Syrians living below the poverty line,” and a six-agency effort to provide health and education services, food and jobs in six of the poorest villages in Syria.

The social aid fund in particular is not a small item. According to documents examined by Fox News, the “Social Welfare Fund” that UNDP monitored under the now-extended UNDAF was intended to dispense $192 million a year between 2008 and 2012. . . . .

In other  words, the UN is doing for Syria what is has been doing across the planet, for decades: providing humanitarian assistance to peoples who need it most.  (And as someone who spent two weeks in Syria 20 years ago, and spent more than a week working with local villagers in eastern Syria, I can attest that the need is there, and it is substantial.)

But in the eyes of Fox News, the UN must be castigated, because:  "In all cases, . . .  U.N. agencies work closely with Syrian government agencies, which can range from the health and education ministries to such entities as the Ministry of the Interior, which among its tasks includes control of security forces."  Moreover, "according to U.N. Coordinator Ahmed’s February report to his boss, the Secretary General, the entire UNDAF program that has now been extended had “weak monitoring and evaluation systems, which made comprehensive assessment of U.N. achievement in Syria very difficult.”

What Russell is conjuring up here in order to outrage us is the old specter of "dual use," in a somewhat different application.  In this instance, it's the fear that UN resources might somehow be diverted to the benefit of the Asad government.  In an earlier incarnation, it was applied as a rationale for depriving millions of Iraqis needed chemicals and infrastructure for their water, sewage, and medical systems during the era of UN-imposed (and US-led) sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime between 1991 and 2003.  The alleged concern then was that Saddam might divert these materials to producing his "weapons of mass destruction" (the same kind of weapons, by the way, that the US essentially winked at when Saddam used them against Iran in the 1980s - but that's a tale for another time).   As Joy Gordon and others (such as Andrew Cockburn) have revealed, though, the US used this dual-use doctrine to wage an "invisible war" that cost millions of Iraqi lives - especially among children and the elderly - via disease and malnutrition during the sanctions era.   It also gravely damaged the US's moral standing (especially when Sec of State Madeleine Albright told "60 Minutes" that the cost had been "worth it").

One would hope that the US public diplomacy mainstream - and its propagandists, like Fox News - would have taken a lesson.  But here we have the executive editor of Fox News (for whom the moral standing of the US is never an issue, because the US's elevated moral standing is, by definition, unassailable),  essentially arguing that the UN should quit providing  humanitarian assistance that is vital to hundreds of thousands of Syria's people; that, in effect, the UN ought to be obligated to join in on the sanctions that "the US and other Western democracies" have imposed on Syria. 

The recent actions of the Asad regime are, by and large, despicable.  Yet, as of this moment, the Asad regime is still the officially recognized government of Syria in the eyes of the world - including the US, and Israel.

And, last time I checked, the UN Charter does not stipulate that the UN's mission is to enforce the dictates - or sanctions - imposed by the "US and other Western democracies."

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