“I want to let the action take place before the talk takes place,” President Trump told David Muir when questioned on his policy regarding the Middle East in an interview with ABC. Indicative of his unnerving approach to conflict and its resolution, this statement highlights Trump’s impulsive and unpredictable style of governing. In his propensity to find simple solutions to complex problems, the cliché and ambiguous rhetoric of the U.S. president critically undermines the severity of the situation in, and around, Syria.
In the same interview, Trump announced that he will “absolutely do safe zones in Syria for the people.” On initial thought, this may seem like a constructive or positive step by the newly-inaugurated president; however, the reality of putting safe zones into effect would cause far more destruction than it would curb. Not only is there a moral hypocrisy in Trump standing by his campaign proposal to “build a big beautiful safe zone” to make Syrian refugees “happier”, whilst concurrently executing a “travel ban” whereby Syrian refugees are not allowed to enter the United States, the logistics of the idea place a rather large, dark cloud over Trump’s “beautiful” safe haven.
First, it is not possible to negotiate the implementation of a safe zone without considering a no-fly zone. This carries with it the extreme risk of further danger, destruction, and death by heightening the conflict between Russia, Turkey, and Kurdish forces regarding the autonomy of the northern Syrian air zones. Furthermore, given the longstanding difficulties in ceasefires being agreed upon and sustained, the notion of a safe zone being easily and swiftly constructed and maintained, as Trump’s statements infer, is far from realistic.
According to Al Jazeera, the Pentagon has estimated that between 15,000 and 30,000 troops would be required to secure a safe zone, and the cost to maintain such a space would be at least US$1bn a month. Could there not be an alternative, more beneficial use of these resources? In his recent trip to Homs, the UN High Commissioner, Filippo Grandi, commented that “rather than planning so called safe zones in Syria, governments must focus on viable peace and then reconstruction. Then refugees will return.” (Source, UNHCR). It is clear that until these demands of peaceful negotiation and financial aid are met, progress to this end is not merely inhibited, but the number of civilians seeking refuge will continue to rise as will, in turn, the number of those living in poverty and inhumane conditions.
“Syria is the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time,” Grandi stated last March, and this remains true to date. (Source, UNHCR). Lifeline Syria reports that almost 5 million refugees have fled Syria and there are at least 8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Significantly, over 70% of all Syrian refugees are women and children, and thousands of children are violated by armed groups across Syria whether that be in their recruitment or violence against them. The consequences that the war has had, and continues to have, on health, education, and family are catastrophic, with the vast majority of refugees living below the poverty line. Indeed, as UNICEF’s end-of-year report tells us, 13.5 million are in desperate need of humanitarian aid in Syria alone and, without the vital support of the international community, this assistance and progress seem inconceivable.
As opposed to a two-sided struggle, it is the participation of multiple groups in the Syrian civil war that has rendered the conflict much more difficult to resolve. The ongoing intervention of a number of foreign governments, and the complicated network of alliances, have further frustrated the possibility of an early peace deal. Despite this, hope remains in the UN-related peace talks, which will continue into the year. February 23rd marks the next conference upon which the international community awaits with hopeful anticipation. It is vital that officials focus on resolving the highly unethical and regressive nature of the conflict in order to reach a peaceful settlement. Quite the contrary to Trump’s line of argument, therefore, talk must precede any action; only through a dialogue committed with intent to resolve the conflict, can peace and reconstruction follow.