THE BLOG

Syria: 'Doing What We Can, With What We've Got, Where We Are'

15/03/2015 10:51 GMT | Updated 15/05/2015 10:59 BST
YOUSSEF KARWASHAN via Getty Images

Four years ago today, an uprising began in Syria inspired by hope and a demand for a better future, and by a rejection of the way the Assad extended family clan and its securocrats had oppressed the country until then: through fear, manipulation and repression of human dignity and freedoms.

Today, Syria is a mess: over 200,000 dead; 11million forced from their homes; 12million in need. Assad continues to cling on to power. Resistance to him has become ever more fluid, ever more complex. Violent extremist groups have sought to exploit ungoverned space.

Yet, the UK's goal for Syria remains firm and clear, and we will work all out to achieve it: that there be a political settlement negotiated among, agreed by and owned by Syrians. This would lead to an inclusive unity government, and stability of the kind you can only get from governance which is both accountable to Syrians and legitimate in their eyes.

This is why Assad cannot be a part of any solution in Syria. His legitimacy, his credibility, are dashed. As the UK Foreign Secretary and his French counterpart set out most recently, to propose Assad as a solution to the extremists is to misunderstand the causes of extremism in Syria.

Assad is not only part of the Syrian problem, he is also ISIL's recruiting sergeant. To seek to make common cause with Assad is to drive Syrians into the arms of extremists, to turbocharge ISIL's hateful ideology.

So he needs to go. And yet he clings on to power, as - daily - his command and control loosens, his state breaks beneath him and the conflict becomes yet more unpredictable. How does he do it? So much of this is about his backers being prepared to keep him and his henchmen on life support, and to block bodies like the UN Security Council from doing its job.

There is no imminent solution. Some brave, determined Syrians are digging in for the long haul, soberly measuring out the remainder of this conflict in multiples of five years.

That doesn't work for me, nor for the team I lead across Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. We are focused on how we can help right here, right now. The words of President Teddy Roosevelt - talking about striving to do what must be done - keep us moving forward: 'Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are'. In that spirit, we are focused on four things.

The overriding imperative is to relieve Syrians' suffering, respecting and preserving their dignity and empowering them as owners of Syria's future. The UK is the second largest bilateral donor to this noble cause. We have committed £800million of support, in Syria and the region. This is not only humanitarian aid. We work to get Syrians access to local governance, justice and community security, and help from rescue teams willing to dig victims from under the rubble caused by Assad's barrel bombs.

We stand shoulder to shoulder with the Syrian opposition. They are critical to a negotiated political settlement. The National Coalition of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces is 'the heart and head' of Syrians prepared to stand up against extremism and Assad's tyranny. Syrian oppositionists prepare themselves for the day when they will again negotiate to achieve the hopes and dreams of the Uprising of 2011.

The international community must rally to Syria's cause. A blocked UN Security Council denies them the consensual backing they deserve. But again, we do what we must, how we can, through the Core Group of the Friends of Syria, eleven countries committed to help advance a better future for that country. We collaborate and plan our support for Syria and its opposition, and focus on how the international community can collectively return to political negotiations.

Finally, we will keep up pressure on the regime. Imposing sanctions is one such example of this. Only last week, the EU announced 13 new sanctions listings against individuals and organisations supporting the regime, including one man who buys oil for them from ISIL. We need to keep the pressure on, for a negotiated solution to have a chance of success.

All of this is the right thing to do. It is also grounded in a realistic assessment of national self-interest. For our own national security, we need to defeat extremism in Syria, and particularly ISIL's brand of it. That demands a rebuilding of governance, stability and an end to Assad's rule.

We have not yet found light at the end of this tunnel. But my team and I will not submit to bleak predictions of another five or ten years of this crisis. We work as if change can happen tomorrow: doing what we can, with what we've got, where we are.