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The Washington Post: Talked to death

Published April 5, 2014 1:01 am

The Washington Post
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Five months have passed since Secretary of State John F. Kerry declared that "the world must act quickly" to stop a "war of starvation" being waged by the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad against "huge proportions of the population."

It's been nearly six weeks since the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 2139, which ordered the regime and rebels to "promptly allow unhindered humanitarian access."

Since then, according to U.N. humanitarian coordinator Valerie Amos, the war of starvation has worsened. The number of Syrians cut off from international aid has grown since January by 1 million, to 3.5 million. At least 180,000 people are in areas directly blockaded by government troops, which refuse to allow in supplies of food or medicine. The Assad regime has authorized aid convoys to cross only one of eight border posts identified by U.N. relief coordinators.

Ms. Amos reported to the Security Council last week that only 6 percent of those living in besieged areas had received relief since the resolution passed. Meanwhile, she said, crimes against the population had escalated: Since Feb, 22, there had been 300 instances of sexual assault in and around Damascus. "The humanitarian situation," she said, "remains bleak."

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said the Assad government "is the sole reason for the lack of progress in cross-border assistance" that "would allow the U.N. and its partners access to almost 4 million people."

Reporters asked Ms. Power what she was proposing for the "next steps" cited in the resolution. "There's nothing I can do and that we can do unilaterally to make the council do what we want," she said.

The United States can't force action by the Security Council, where Russia, Assad's ally, has a veto. But the Obama administration is not lacking in options .What it lacks is the will to act. It could order the Assad regime to authorize border crossings by aid convoys — something Ms. Power said would require only "a stroke of the pen" — or face the same airstrikes Mr. Obama threatened last summer. It could target blockade points with drone or missile strikes. It could provide rebels with the weapons they need from dropping bombs on housing, hospitals and schools.

Ms. Power and her colleagues instead deliver angry statements and then throw up their hands. It's not a performance that will be judged well when historians consider why the world's foremost power failed to stop this mass slaughter.