Apr 10 2014
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today delivered the following remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate regarding the mass atrocities in Syria, as the world commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide this week:
“Mr. President, as we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide this week, I rise today to remind my colleagues and fellow citizens of the humanity we share and appeal to their conscience about the mass atrocities that the Assad regime is perpetrating in Syria. This past Sunday, the world joined Rwanda in marking twenty years since the beginning of the genocide that claimed the lives of more than 800,000 innocent men, women, and children. As we reflect on our failures to stop the genocide there, I cannot help but think of the lessons we learned from Rwanda and of those we didn’t.
“As President Obama stated in his remarks on Sunday, ‘The Rwandan genocide was neither an accident nor unavoidable… The genocide we remember today, and the world’s failure to respond more quickly, reminds us that we always have a choice. In the face of hatred, we must remember the humanity we share. In the face of cruelty, we must choose compassion. In the face of intolerance and suffering, we must never be indifferent.’ I could not agree more with the President. The United States, along with the international community, failed to take the necessary action to prevent a tragedy in Rwanda. We chose to ignore the death of hundreds of thousands of people, and in so doing we forsook our humanity. And now, we are dangerously close to doing the same in Syria.
“While I would like to believe that ‘never again’ means something in this context, I look around the world today and I’m haunted by the fact that we simply haven’t learned the fundamental lesson from Rwanda – that preventing the slaughter of innocents means taking hard political action.
“Nowhere is this truer than in Syria where President Bashar al-Assad’s regime continues its brutal assault against the Syrian people with increasing ferocity. The slaughter of innocent men, women, and children is being carried out by Syria’s national army and loyal paramilitaries as a matter of state policy, and the terror continues to escalate every day that Assad’s crimes go unpunished. The regime has accelerated its attacks against civilians by indiscriminately dropping barbaric barrel bombs on mosques, schools, and bakeries, systematically detaining, torturing and killing thousands of people including hundreds of children, and starving entire neighborhoods to death.
“It was over five months ago that Secretary John Kerry wrote that ‘the world must act quickly’ to stop ‘a war of starvation’ being waged by Assad’s regime against huge portions of the populations. Yet, the world did nothing and hundreds have died of starvation in those five months.
“Eventually, the international community responded by passing Resolution 2139 through the UN Security Council, which ordered the regime to promptly allow unhindered humanitarian access and threatened further consequences for noncompliance. This was two months ago, and yet again, the world did nothing to back the resolution. In fact, UN humanitarian coordinator Valerie Amos reports that the war of starvation has worsened since its passing. The number of Syrians cut off from aid has grown since January by over 1 million people. The Syrian government continues to prevent supplies of food from entering opposition held areas in direct contravention of the U.N. resolution. And it is using U.S.-provided humanitarian aid as leverage in its war against the people. Meanwhile, Iran sends 30,000 tons of food supplies to Assad’s regime. While children starve throughout Syria, the government is at least well-fed.
“Although 800,000 people have not been slaughtered in mere months as was the case in Rwanda, over the course of three years of conflict in Syria we have witnessed 9 million people forced from their homes with 2.5 million refugees escaping the violence in neighboring countries and an estimated 150,000 people dead with casualties escalating daily. Regardless of the scale or scope, one fact is clear: the world is watching genocide in slow motion. But it seems that regardless of how many innocent men, women and children die in Syria, the world’s conscience will not be tipped.
“What is happening in Syria should be an affront to our conscience, and it should be a call to action. Each day, the media floods our newspapers and television screens with gruesome and horrific evidence of Assad’s war crimes. We cannot claim ignorance as we have in the past, and yet, we do nothing. It is as if watching all the suffering and simply feeling bad about it has become an adequate moral response.
“Conventional wisdom tells us that this is because the American public is war-weary. We are scarred by our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq and thus unwilling to get involved in another conflict in the Middle East. This sentiment is reinforced by the President, who prides himself on having opposed the war in Iraq and getting America out of the region as quickly as possible – regardless of the ramifications. He has emphasized the need to ‘contain’ the conflict in Syria, calling it a ‘civil war’ and neglecting the dangerous spillover effects we are already witnessing including the destabilization of all of Syria’s neighbors and the growth of an al-Qaeda safe haven in eastern Syria and western Iraq. Following the President’s lead, the American public has largely applauded his restraint and opposed greater U.S. involvement in Syria.
“But in so doing, we have again failed the legacy of Rwanda. Stopping the slaughter in Syria will require difficult political action, but it is not only profoundly in our national interests to act but also our moral obligation to do so. In his remarks on Sunday, President Obama said that we should be reminded of ‘our obligations to our fellow man,’ and as President he is the one who should be showing to the American people why it so vital to our national interests to carry out our moral obligations to our fellow man. Our policies should be determined by the realities of the moment, not by today’s isolationism dictated by the past. The war in Afghanistan and Iraq has nothing to do with how we carry out our responsibilities today, and let there be no mistake, we have a responsibility to stop genocide when we see it happening as in Syria. ‘Never again’ should mean something, whether or not we are paralyzed by war-weariness.
“Of course, we would all like to see the slaughter of Syria’s innocent men, women, and children be stopped by diplomacy and through non-violent means. We all want an end to the violence and we all want to believe that a political solution is possible. But there are only two ways to end the violence. One is for all parties to put down their weapons, something that President Assad and his Iranian partners are clearly unwilling to do as they believe a military solution is possible. So that leaves us with the only other option, to neutralize the party dedicated to the slaughter of innocents and force it to put down their guns.
“There are options to achieve this that fall short of putting boots on the ground. We do not need to concede and allow genocide to continue or go to war to prevent it. There are steps in between that the United States along with our international partners can take to stand by our international commitments and guarantees of protection. President Assad has already shown that U.N. resolutions mean nothing to him and he has no intention of negotiating his departure through the Geneva process. It is clear that military pressure is the only lever that will convince Assad that a political solution is in his favor. We must be ready to prove to Assad that not achieving a diplomatic solution will cost his regime dearly and there are meaningful actions we can take to help in Syria that will not require us to rerun the war in Iraq. It is not a question of options or capabilities. It is a question of will.
“There is a famous quote that states, ‘All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.’ As we sit back and place our hopes on negotiations and meaningless guarantees of protection, we watch as hundreds of innocent men, women, and children are brutally slaughtered every day; reinvigorated al-Qaeda affiliates operate with more freedom than ever before; terrorist groups loyal to Iran proliferate and threaten our allies; and the region descends into chaos and turmoil that will inevitably reverberate back here in America. This is the price we pay for choosing to remain disengaged and the consequences to U.S. national interests will be felt. Tyranny has indeed gained a foothold as we remain silent.”