When Bill Clinton was president, Hillary Clinton said if a country was too small, poor or dangerous, that’s where the first lady went. Hmm: Maybe Michelle Obama could follow now-Secretary of State Clinton’s rule and visit the Syrian refugee camps this summer.
If not, then Mitt and Ann Romney ought to go.
Sens. John McCain and Joe Lieberman visited the refugees in April. To my knowledge, no high-level Democrat has.
For a president who won the Nobel Peace Prize, leading a NATO humanitarian intervention in Syria, and thereby upholding the international moral norm of Responsibility to Protect (which he used as the rationale for intervening in Libya), should have been a foreign-policy cakewalk.
In 1999, led by the United States, NATO intervened in Kosovo — after the United Nations had failed to act due to Russia’s opposition.
NATO emerged, post-Kosovo, as a significant humanitarian actor, having successfully converted military capital into humanitarian action.A global precedent was established; NATO can and will act when there is a humanitarian emergency that the United Nations fails to prevent.
That transformation made a NATO intervention in Syria not only possible but expected.
Post-Kosovo, the international community drew up moral guidelines for future interventions, the “responsibility to protect” or R2P. These set two “either or both” thresholds for action: 1) a large-scale loss of life or 2) large-scale ethnic cleansing, defined as “actual or apprehended.”
The R2P policy stated: “It is only a matter of time before reports emerge again from somewhere of massacres, mass starvation, rape and ethnic cleaning.” In Syria, that time has arrived.
But instead of enforcing R2P, President Obama has declared cooperation with Russia on Syria, claiming this policy will be “guided by the principles of the rule of law, respect for human rights, equality and mutual respect.”But Russia has never been an honest broker, nor has President Vladimir Putin demonstrated anything remotely resembling respect for human rights.
The Obama policy deal devalues NATO’s principles and R2P’s moral guidelines — and legitimizes crimes against humanity by the Syrian state, supported by Russia.
Remember Barack Obama’s answer to Hillary Clinton’s “3 a.m. phone call” ads from the 2008 Democratic primary? The Obama commerical went: “It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. There is a phone ringing in the White House. Something’s happening in the world. When that call gets answered, shouldn’t the president be the one, the only one, who had judgment and courage. . . In a dangerous world, it’s judgment that matters.”
Syria was President Obama’s 3 a.m. phone call. The phone rang off the hook. Perhaps the Obamas had left to campaign nonstop until Election Day, or snuck out the back door for summer vacation?
The Washington Post is asking Americans where the Obamas should vacation this summer. Sorry: Syrian children will be lucky in those months if they manage to flee to refugee camps over the border and avoid being killed in their homes, streets and playgrounds.
The very least our first lady could do is support the children fortunate enough to escape the slaughter her husband refuses to prevent.
If no one in the Obama family has this kind of “courage in a dangerous world,” perhaps the Romneys do. A visit to the camps would show that Romney is ready to answer the 3 a.m. call the way an American president should. Such a trip also provides much-needed moral support to refugee mothers and children.
Yes, this November’s election will mainly focus on the economy and ObamaCare — but other issues still matter. That’s presumably why Romney has a trip to Israel planned. Why not add a quick jaunt to visit the camps?
So I can’t think of a better summer trip for the Romneys — one that would be greatly appreciated by Syrian refugees, those around the world who care about them and by American voters.
Lori Handrahan is a professor at American University’s School of International Service. She serves on the UN’s Inter-Agency Standing Committee working groups on humanitarian response and was a UN adviser in the Balkans and Chad.