There needs to be an alternative to the United States' military involvement in Syria. War is not the only option.

The following is a women's proposal written by a group of accomplished and practical Vermont women.  These women have been aides to governors and presidential candidates; have served as diplomats, senior UN officials and judges on war crimes tribunals.  

This is a practical, realistic, responsible, actionable and humanitarian course of action that people must petition the American government to take to save lives without going to war in Syria. 

The immediate proposal is written to the Vermont congressional delegation, but we hope that people will spread this message to every congressperson throughout the United States and to interested parties, people of influence, the media and decision makers everywhere in the world.

A Humanitarian Option for Syria: Operation Open Doors

Dear Members of the Vermont congressional delegation,

I understand that this is a delicate and essential decision weighed upon you by the unfortunate circumstances of tribalism and ethnicity and religion and history and politics and hegemony in a region far beyond the real ken and concern of many Americans. I also understand the moral imperative prescribing a course of action to take, and the consequences of not doing so.

As an alternative to military engagement in Syria, I would like to propose a plan that would enable the US government to provide a responsible, actionable and humanitarian response to the atrocities being perpetuated on Syrian people by their own.

My husband and I are Vermonters, living on Lake Champlain in Benson and graduates of Vermont Law School. But we have had another life. We have both lived in and personally experienced civil war and it’s repercussions, around the globe, for the past 25 years.

I became a senior official for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Steven and I served on the Thai/Cambodian border, during the flight of refugees from southeast Asia in the late 70’s and during their repatriation to and within Cambodia from 1991-93. We were in Bosnia from 1993-96: During this time I was the unfortunate and unwilling facilitator of the initial humanitarian response to the exodus from Croatia and Sarajevo and to the evacuation of surviving women and children from Srebrenica. We served in South Africa from 1997-98 covering SADC. In Rwanda from 1998-2001, focusing on building 100,000 homes to promote repatriation and reconciliation. We both worked in Angola. I helped organize the aborted repatriations from Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and worked in all of those countries. I went to Kabul and buried 24 year old Bettina Goislard, who I had helped get her first UNHCR assignment - where she was assassinated. I was the Senior Policy Advisor to the High Commissioner at UNHCR headquarters in Geneva and during that time was on the team with Sergio Vieira de Mello for the first and only UN joint mission to Iraq - I was home on temporary leave visiting our mother when UN headquarters there was blown up on August 19. I was the head of UNHCR in Uganda from 2005-2008 and was instrumental in beginning the dismantling of the long-standing IDP camps. For the past two and a half decades I have worked in almost every major conflict, on the humanitarian, receiving sides of those wars. In senior positions.

I am not blowing my own horn here: I want you to know that I know what I am talking about.

In order to further prove my bona fides to you, and to assure you I am a serious interlocutor, I refer you to my former colleagues in the United Nations. Ms. Karen Abu-Zayd, now on the Syrian Commission; Ms. Wendy Chamberlain, former US Ambassador and currently President of the Middle East Institute in Washington; Mr. Athar Sultan-Khan, chef de cabinet of the High Commissioner for UNHCR. I am copying them all on this message.

I suggest that we invite the Syrian people to turn their backs on to their own universally condemned government and that we provide them the safe, accessible and viable means to do so.

I suggest a comprehensive plan to set up region wide safe havens in all of the countries currently admitting refugees from Syria, and ensuring unrestricted access of additional Syrians who want and are able to escape the war, and all of it's effects, - until the implosion of the current Syrian regime.

These havens should be established or assisted or re-incorporated by the UN under its refugee protection, internally displaced protection and good offices jurisdictions; administered by the respective host countries with in-country security provided by host government’s police forces and financially supported by the US, UK, French, and Arab countries, as well as willing others - as an alternative to spending many millions of dollars each day on military action.

This would require a massive effort to encourage non-combatant civilian populations to leave their country for their own personal security, perhaps survival, from the inhumane actions of their own compatriots and find a haven in a neighboring country for an indefinite period of time.

The essential elements of this proposal are:

• it would focus on saving lives
• it serves the moral imperative of response rather than retaliation
• it depends upon exerting significant political pressure on certain countries to open up or establish more decentralized camps/settlements/ local hostings - whatever type of guest community is the most palatable to the hosting country
• it depends upon the authority of the US, Europe, Russia and China to persuade Syria and Israel to allow or assist people to flee to safe areas - absolute and protected freedom of movement
• it demands that hosting countries must provide a decent, viable place to live, for whatever the time required, with real and substantial financial support from the US and others
• it requires receiving countries to give Syrian refugees/guests/expatriates the opportunities to access health and education services and to practice their professions, livelihoods and lifestyles in the safe havens without restriction
• it would isolate the bad guys inside of the country

There will be significant objection to all proposals, but the international community has many well documented successes in the last 30 years. The actions we take are not always palatable, but they are doable. I have been personally involved in missions which overcame the following criticisms:

• Accusations of abetting ethnic cleansing: People would rather flee and survive than stay and die. We had to deal with this in Bosnia
• More homeless, stateless people: Palestinians in Syria are already vulnerable, stateless and displaced
• Refuge is a short term solution: 13+ years Cambodia; 20+ years Sudanese: 30+ Rwandese. Etc.
• States have their own sovereign rules and regulations: All things can be legislated
• Militarization of border camps: We have seen these maintained in Thailand and Cambodia
• Combatants claiming refugee status: Successful programs have been established to demobilize combatants. Uganda, Sudan, Congo, Haiti, et al.
• Criticism of inducing population displacement: Massive evacuations occur in event of natural disaster, or an unnatural disaster.

It is not, unfortunately, that we do not have experience with all of the above. We have a lot of knowledge and instruction from missions in Cambodia and Bosnia and the DRC and other conflicts which can serve us in formulating a plan, if it is heavily endowed.

Thank you, Cynthia Burns

A Shiver

The way you had to stand to swing the sledge...
... does it do you good
To have known it in your bones, directable,
Withholdable at will,
A first blow that could make air of a wall,
A last one so unanswerably landed
The staked earth quailed and shivered in the handle?

Seamus Heany