Moral Depravity of US Syria Policy: Unlimited Funds for Fighting, UN Suspends Refugee Food Aid

There is no way that the United States and its allies can say that they didn’t see this coming. They had a very clearly stated warning in September. Nevertheless, while the US continues throwing virtually unlimited funds at training “moderatefighters for Syria and even contemplating a modified “no-fly zone” that is virtually certain to lead to deeper direct US involvement in the fighting, the United Nations’ World Food Programme was forced to announce yesterday that financial assistance to feed 1.7 million Syrian refugees is being suspended immediately because the international community has provided insufficient funding for the program. The funding gap could not have come at a worse time for the refugees:

Under this programme, poor Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt have used vouchers to buy food in local shops. Without WFP vouchers, many families will go hungry. For refugees already struggling to survive the harsh winter, the consequences of halting this assistance will be devastating.

“A suspension of WFP food assistance will endanger the health and safety of these refugees and will potentially cause further tensions, instability and insecurity in the neighbouring host countries,” said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, in an appeal to donors. “The suspension of WFP food assistance will be disastrous for many already suffering families.

Syrian refugees in camps and informal settlements throughout the region are ill prepared for yet another harsh winter, especially in Lebanon and Jordan, where many children are bare foot and without proper clothing. Many tents are drenched in mud and hygiene conditions are growing extremely precarious.

Cousin said that WFP’s Syria emergency operations are now in critical need of funding. Many donor commitments remain unfulfilled. WFP requires a total of US$64 million immediately to support Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries during the month of December.

The funding gap for WFP was over $350 million in the September announcement. That figure was for funding through the end of the year, putting the monthly cost at just over $115 million. The gap for December still stands at $64 million, meaning that the WFP has gotten less than half the funds that it sought in September.

Recall that back in late September, the announcement of the three month need came on the same day the Senate approved $500 million for training “moderate” rebels to send into Syria. Once again, just as word of the cutoff has come out, the US is openly discussing committing more funds to escalating the Syrian civil war:

The Obama administration is weighing the opening of a new front in the air war against the Islamic State in Syria, part of an offensive to push back militants along the western part of Syria’s border with Turkey and create a relatively safe zone for U.S.-backed Syrian rebel forces to move in.

Under the plan, U.S. aircraft flying from Turkey’s Incirlik air base would target positions the militants currently hold along the border north of Aleppo, eastward toward the besieged town of Kobane. Turkish special forces would move into the area to assist the targeting and help Syrian opposition fighters consolidate their hold on the territory.

Of course, this will require lots more money and is likely to drag us much deeper into the conflict:

If implemented, the plan would require significantly more U.S. resources than are now devoted to the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, including more planes and more money. Congress is debating both the funding and the new authorization for operations in Syria and Iraq that have already been approved by the president.

Although officials said the proposal is not intended to establish a traditional no-fly zone, requiring constant patrols against other aircraft entering the area — potentially up to 100 miles long and 20 miles deep inside Syria — its proponents recognize the potential for a “slippery slope” into a far more major operation.

Once more, the US cares only about putting more arms and more bombs into the conflict while families starve and go without adequate shelter or cold weather clothing. The Washington Post talked to one family that will be hit hard by the end of the voucher program:

For Syrians such as Mouhanad Mouree, there was shock that he, his wife and their six children may no longer receive their World Food Program vouchers. They fled their home town of Homs seven months ago for Tripoli, a city in northern Lebanon, where they live in a garage for $200 a month. Mouree is especially concerned about his 2-year-old son.

“I can hardly afford diapers and milk for my youngest son, and we freeze in the cold weather because we cannot afford heating with electricity,” he said by telephone. “I don’t know what we’ll do.”

In a war that has cost over 200,000 lives, the US still chooses to put its resources into escalation of the war while ignoring the needs of those who will die of exposure and neglect.

But they hate us for our freedoms.

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11 replies
  1. Don Bacon says:

    The US might aid refugees resulting from other conflicts, but it has never and will never aid refugees resulting from its own aggression despite its “concern for the Syrian people.” No warring country does that.
    .
    In fact the stepped-up US aggression “to bring security to Syria” demands the end of humanitarian aid for Syrians. The money needs to go to Lockheed, Raytheon and others, to then be passed to politicians concerned with “national security.”

  2. orionATL says:

    gosh!

    the fates of syrian civilians sounds just like the fates of iraqi civilians following the u.s. invasion in 2003 with the loss of hospitals, food supplies, jobs, and the u.s. support of sectarian death squads. president obama and his national security possee are as ruthless and brutal as “the george and dick” song-and-dance team of the prior decade.

    • Don Bacon says:

      Yes, and there were the sanctions on Iraq before the invasion that denied clean water to the most vulnerable, children.
      .
      Lesley Stahl (of CBS News): “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”
      .
      Madeleine Albright (U.S. ambassador to the United Nations): “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.”

  3. Adam Colligan says:

    This is really terribly sloppy.
    .
    Your argument for “moral depravity” depends on some combination of the following:
    .
    1. US aid to rebels in Syria is somehow calculated or intended by its backers to increase suffering there and/or heighten the refugee crisis.
    .
    3. The US is (a) under-funding the WFP in general, (b) under-funding the WFP emergency effort for Syrian refugees in particular, or (c) failing to make some extraordinary food relief effort that it would otherwise make in such situations.
    .
    4. The US is neglecting the Syria refugee situation outside the WFP context.
    .
    5. The US is failing to make some extraordinary food relief effort that it would otherwise make in such situations.
    .
    *All* of those potential claims are basically bullshit. And what’s worse is that the information demonstrating this is so readily available. Why would you write a piece like this without even bothering to retrieve it?
    .
    Re: 1. This is the most subjective and most indirect claim, but it is still worth pointing out that it is not supported with evidence in your piece. Even if US policymakers are wrong or misguided — i.e., you think their actions in aiding rebels are likely to make the situation worse rather than better — that’s not a real argument for their “depravity”. They (the funders) don’t think it can get much worse than being squeezed between ISIL and Assad. They don’t see the war waning or ending on its own anytime soon. And they think their anti-ISIL strategy will prevent the need for yet further mass movements of civilians fleeing massacres. Just because they may turn out to be wrong doesn’t mean they are either evil or indifferent regarding the humanitarian crisis.
    .
    .
    Re: 2. This is the heart of your piece’s argument. You directly tie the shortfall in WFP funds in Syria to American indifference. There may be historical problems in the structure of US food assistance, but this particular claim is just nothing but lazy.
    .
    (a) Let’s first ask how much we should expect the US to be contributing to the WFP. There are plenty of ways to do it. One might be comparing the available US budget (~$3.5 to $4.5 trillion) to total global public spending (~24.6 trillion). That’s around 20% even if you want to be hard on the US.
    .
    Another way to go would be to just use US GDP as a share of the global economy. I checked some IMF tables. It’s about 22% in nominal terms or about 13% in terms of purchasing power parity. Rather than judge between them, I’m just going to take 22 percent because it’s the highest available bar I can set for “America’s share”.
    .
    So far in 2014, US contributions to the WFP are $1.955 billion out of $4.473 billion in total donations. That’s 43 percent!
    .
    (b) “But wait,” you want to say. “Syrian refugees represent a special emergency. Donations there might not reflect the general pattern of agency support.”
    .
    This is the latest WFP Syria emergency operation (EMOP) resource situation as of this past weekend. (You can also check out their latest revised budget if you like). As you can see, the US contribution represents 26 percent of the total requirement, even though all donations together only sum to 59 percent of the total requirement. In other words, the US is not only punching above its “expected” contribution weight in this specific operation relative to the WFP’s need. But also, in doing so, it is *doubling* the effective generosity of the rest of the planet relative to economic size, since everyone else’s contributions are roughly half what they would need to be to allow the WFP to meet the full need.
    .
    (c) You could still try to make the argument that the US would usually make some special effort to push a food aid operation over the top, even if other donors continued slacking, but isn’t doing so now because it’s spending on rebel aid. So let’s look at other active WFP EMOPs. Whoops, nope. The average funding level across all EMOPs (58%) is almost exactly the same as the current level for the ongoing Syria EMOP.
    .
    Re: 3. Why not just search for FY2014 and “Syria” at USASpending.gov? As of September, CNN put the total US humanitarian aid spend on Syria to date at . You can always argue about how to count what, but it dwarfs the $500m approved for rebel training.
    .
    Re: 4. But is there even casual evidence of some zero-sum relationship between US WFP support and US spending on rebel forces or other military activities in the region? To the contrary. First off, just the year-on-year increase in US WFP contributions during 2014, which isn’t over yet, is almost $500 million, the same as the full amount of the rebel authorization. But they let you get even more detailed than that. Why not take a quick gander at
    these intra-year comparative charts helpfully offered on the WFP website?. Total WFP receipts are up 20 percent from last year. What did non-host donors have to do with that? Well, Europe boosted its support by 7%, while Canada and UN agencies chipped in 5 percent less than last year, and BRICS 20 percent less. The miserly, military-aid-obsessed United States? A 35-percent year-on-year increase in support.
    .
    And that chart there on page 2 lets you track the pace of those contributions. What happened right on the heels of the rebel aid funding vote? Belt-tightening on humanitarian efforts to feed the new strategy? Hardly: there was a sharp $200-million jump in the contribution in just the space of a week or so, one of the biggest tranches of allocation of the year.
    .
    .
    So what you’ve done here isn’t just a bit slapdash. It’s disrespectful to your readers, disrespectful to the agencies and advocates coordinating support for refugee relief, and disrespectful to the US taxpayers backstopping it. How can the vital task of public humanitarian relief be sustained when people who claim to be morally invested in it carelessly and needlessly spread this kind of ignorance? Please make an effort to update your piece to reflect something like reality.

    • Jim White says:

      .
      Boy oh boy. That cubicle in a high-paying think tank is very nearly within your reach. Just keep on churning out Kaganisms like this and you’ll be picking targets in the next crisis zone before you can say “pay me”.
      .
      Most of your arguments are refuted if you read the post from September where I frame the argument that the US response to crises anywhere in the world is to ask which groups to provide weapons and funding to. The alternative I pose, asking what can be done to help the citizens in the crisis area, is an afterthought at best. So yes, I do see the choice as an either/or. And I see the choice to provide nearly limitless funding to the training of the mythical “moderate” rebels to be depraved when the first thought should be how do we help the Syrian citizens who have been displaced by years of fighting which we have provoked at various levels overtly and covertly. Hide all you want in arguments about percentage of GDP, but the funds to pay for your warmongering approach to “help” dwarf our humanitarian funds and you know it.
      .
      So no, it’s not sloppy. It’s pointing out exactly the depravity that goes into the mindset which you clearly have bought into completely, that the only way out of the situation in Syria involves weapons.
      .
      Take a look at the video. There are REAL people who have been displaced. A mere $64 million additional dollars, less than the error bars for what will skimmed directly off the top of the $500 million anti-ISIS funding, could have fed another 1.7 million people who are freezing. I don’t give a shit if any of the “moderates” get weapons before the last refugee is fed. Try to have a nice Christmas while these folks are burying their kids who die of exposure.
      .
      So take your moralistic-cloaked bullshit you are trying to lecture me on and crawl back under the rock that incubates your mindset that puts guns over food every time a “strategy” is cooked up. I’m sick of that mindset. I intend to continue calling it out every time I see the US demonstrate it. Call me sloppy if you want, but I’d really like to see those kids fed and clothed.
      .
      And I’d like the US to stop fucking around in other people’s civil wars.
      .
      Just a postscript. You really like to hear yourself talk, don’t you? Every time you decide to lecture me, it goes on about five times longer than is needed. That’s okay for internal pieces at your dream think tank job, but when you are trying to sell a concept, get to the point a shade quicker.

      • Adam Colligan says:

        Boy oh boy. That cubicle in a high-paying think tank is very nearly within your reach. Just keep on churning out Kaganisms like this and you’ll be picking targets in the next crisis zone before you can say “pay me”.

        .
        Ad hom all you want, I guess. But this isn’t the first time you’ve made this completely false statement about my career interests. It would be better if you were open to some other thought than, “oh, he must clearly be one of those people, so I don’t have to worry about his criticism, because those people are all brainwashed.” For what it’s worth, what made your piece immediately strike me as suspect was not my professional experience with military issues. It was my professional experience with the politics and policy of food insecurity.
        .
        My actual core career interest is in disaster vulnerability analysis and emergency management policy domestically. And I believe one of the most important problems is that investment against human threats and investment against “natural” threats are not balanced in a rational way under a single political process. There is indeed an irrational budget and policy fixation on enemies with faces, even in agencies that are supposed have an “all-hazards” responsibility. It will be a huge challenge to use good information to change this culture and create more unified approaches to relieving suffering.
        .
        And that’s why it’s so infuriating to see how you have hijacked this position and cut it with falsehoods in order to try to sell it in a place where it actually makes no sense. The Syrian situation is one in which militarized thinking actually isn’t crowding out US humanitarian support and multilateral relief strategy. Every time a completely stupid and easily falsified argument like the one in your piece gets made in public, it becomes that much harder to warn people when there really is a wolf.
        .

        Most of your arguments are refuted if you read the post from September where I frame the argument that the US response to crises anywhere in the world is to ask which groups to provide weapons and funding to. The alternative I pose, asking what can be done to help the citizens in the crisis area, is an afterthought at best.

        .
        I did read that piece. And its role here is not as a refutation. It’s actually a vaccination against any facts that could come along and challenge your premise. As of September, when a capped authorization of $500 million was being considered to equip and train rebels, the US had already spent something like $2.9 billion on humanitarian aid for Syrians. As of now, the US has already forked over $450+ million just to the WFP EMOP alone. And, as the numbers show, the aid spend accelerated from September and continues to outpace the rebel training spend. “But aha!”, you can say. “I didn’t claim that the US government spent fewer resources on the humanitarian side or spent them later. I said that they “asked” in the wrong sequence or “thought” in the wrong priority order.”
        .
        This just means you are setting up a claim that is so vague and ethereal that nothing in reality can ever force you to see it as wrong in any situation. Humanitarian aid for Syrian refugess has been by far a faster and more expensive US government effort than rebel military support, whether or not the media pays that any attention. Persisting in the claim that rebel support is or has been the “top” or “first” priority means ignoring those facts or trying to argue that facts just don’t matter at all.
        .
        So yes, I do see the choice as an either/or. And I see the choice to provide nearly limitless funding to the training of the mythical “moderate” rebels to be depraved when the first thought should be how do we help the Syrian citizens who have been displaced by years of fighting which we have provoked at various levels overtly and covertly.
        .
        You still haven’t provided any support at all for the claim that there is any special zero-sum relationship between rebel aid and humanitarian funding in the Syrian crisis. Unless you have evidence of that, it makes no sense to join the two together this way. Why not write a piece about the depravity of American spending on Halloween costumes or NFL tickets “rather than” Syrian refugees? For that matter, why not write a piece about the “depravity” of the non-US donation shortfalls that are much more morally responsible for the WFP’s funding problem? At least then you’d be talking about something more concrete that appears to be taking priority over this suffering rather than some ethereal concept of what you feel they are “thinking about first”.
        .

        Hide all you want in arguments about percentage of GDP, but the funds to pay for your warmongering approach to “help” dwarf our humanitarian funds and you know it.
        .
        So no, it’s not sloppy. It’s pointing out exactly the depravity that goes into the mindset which you clearly have bought into completely, that the only way out of the situation in Syria involves weapons.

        .
        Since when is it “my” warmongering approach? I didn’t advocate massive rebel aid spending. I did say that the policymakers who do think it’s a good idea aren’t inherently crazy or evil, and their proposals do not at all appear to have direct tradeoffs with the level of humanitarian support on offer. Showing that you are wrong doesn’t put me on “their team”, and it doesn’t take being one of “them” to see that you are wrong.
        .
        And this assertion about the numbers is nuts. Me: “here’s $3 billion+ in US humanitarian aid, including more than its GDP weight to fully fund the WFP mission. There’s $500 million+ in support for rebels and numbers showing the rest of the world shirking commitments and shorting the WFP.” You: “the rebel support spending dwarfs humanitarian aid, and the US is responsible for the WFP funding shortfall. I know this because I know that US officials think about things backwards, so they must be doing it backwards. I looked it up in my gut.
        .

        Take a look at the video. There are REAL people who have been displaced. A mere $64 million additional dollars, less than the error bars for what will skimmed directly off the top of the $500 million anti-ISIS funding, could have fed another 1.7 million people who are freezing. I don’t give a shit if any of the “moderates” get weapons before the last refugee is fed. Try to have a nice Christmas while these folks are burying their kids who die of exposure.
        .
        So take your moralistic-cloaked bullshit you are trying to lecture me on and crawl back under the rock that incubates your mindset that puts guns over food every time a “strategy” is cooked up. I’m sick of that mindset. I intend to continue calling it out every time I see the US demonstrate it. Call me sloppy if you want, but I’d really like to see those kids fed and clothed.

        .
        Yes, they are real people, which is why people who write about Syria should care more about the real reasons they don’t have what they need and less about trying to twist their situation into making a pre-conceived point. If you are angry that the WFP doesn’t have $64 million additional dollars, why not start down the list of national government under-contributing to the WFP? The US isn’t even on that list. And if you don’t think Americans should enjoy Christmas when they could be doing more for Syrian refugees rather than spending money on things you think should be lower priorities, fine. Just take the money you would have spent on presents and donate it to the WFP. They have a super easy webform.
        .

        Just a postscript. You really like to hear yourself talk, don’t you? Every time you decide to lecture me, it goes on about five times longer than is needed. That’s okay for internal pieces at your dream think tank job, but when you are trying to sell a concept, get to the point a shade quicker.

        .
        I think it is worthwhile to back up arguments with facts and explain their meaning thoroughly. And I think it is especially important to do that when trying to contrast reasoned and well-supported arguments with a shoot-from-the-hip polemic that is selling something completely false. And again, my dream is not to work in a think tank, and you know that by now. Ask yourself why you feel such a strong need to concoct a story like that about who someone is.

    • bevin says:

      The US government deliberately set out to create a crisis in Syria. It is delighted that it has, by sponsoring sectarian strife, its partisans have, through terrorism, driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. It is happy that by unleashing sunni takfiris it has wiped out communities of christians and alawites, amongst others.
      It is particularly proud to have provoked the Syrian government into heavy handed military tactics against the the well financed, heavily armed and, in all probability, CIA led forces which it employs in the hope that the Assad government will be unable to survive the suffering that the actions of the US and its satellites have created.

  4. Adam Colligan says:

    (Apologies for the mis-numbering above in the summary at the top. “3” should be 2, 4 –>3, 5–>4. I wish that edit button were back!)

  5. Jo6pac says:

    Yep, Amerika plenty of money for bullets and bombs but to feed people wither here in Amerika or all the refuges we create not so much. Sad:(

    Adam, yes Amerika does this to add to the hardships of those that didn’t die in the mayhem Amerika causes around the world.

  6. P J Evans says:

    The US Government apparently stopped doing morality some time before I started noticing politics and world affairs. That’s at least 50 years back.
    I wish it would figure out that you don’t make friends by starting and backing wars.

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