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I feel privileged to have been able to work in Washington D.C. on international relations issues during this particular period in history. Years from now, I'll look back and say not only was I alive during the momentous revolutions of the Arab Spring, but I was in the nation's capital, following significant events as they happened, and writing about them on behalf of a national organization. Opportunities like that are rare, and looking back, I'm very glad I chose to intern fulltime for GlobalSolutions.org rather than part-time in a Congressperson's office.
Witnessing Congressional hearings was a new and interesting experience for me. I quickly learned that nothing really gets done in hearings, and all the real work is done behind the scenes. But the hearings were worthwhile nonetheless. I heard Hillary Clinton testify about the importance of international relations funding and another high-level state department official testify about Libya while U.S. planes were bombing Moammar Gaddafi's troops. Those two events as well as a plethora of others made the work I was doing tangible and that much more exciting.
In his article Why attack Libya and not Syria?, CNN's Alan Silverleib lays out the many political reasons the United States and international community intervened in Libya but refrained from intervention in Syria, including:
- Libya happened first
- A large portion of Libya was controlled by the rebels and not Moammar Gaddafi
- There was international will to intervene in Libya, while there is no consensus on Syria
- The Arab League supported multilateral action in Libya but not in Syria
- Arab leaders are generally closer to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad than they were to Libyan leader Gaddafi
- Israel content with Assad at the moment sees upheaval of Syrian leadership as risky
These are all sound political reasons not to intervene in Syria and probably designates military action in Syria impractical imprudent. But what about the Syrian people? What about the over 400 innocent Syrian civilians who have been killed since protest started in March? I think it's important that we examine precisely what the responsibility to protect demands from the international community. Maybe Syria is a case in which RtoP requires us to take action but real world political consequences make such action impossible.
In the coming weeks, we must keep a close eye on the policy of the United States government in Yemen, another Arab country experiencing mass protests and calls for change. Demonstrations, inspired by the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, have protested the presidency of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's leader for the past 33 years.
Mr. Saleh responded to the protests with both violent crackdowns and attempts at appeasement. On March 18, government forces fired on people who had just finished praying, killing 50 and injuring 100. The violence continued in April, and over 100 people have been killed in total since March. Because of the spike in government-sanctioned killings, many high profile officials in Yemen's government have resigned and left the country.
Mr. Saleh has attempted to offer various compromises to protesters and to the Joint Meetings Parties, Yemen's opposition coalition. His offer to not seek reelection in 2012 was soundly rejected by his opponents. The Joint Meetings Parties proposed an agreement in which Mr. Saleh would step down at the end of 2011, but protestors rejected the plan, demanding Mr. Saleh to step down immediately.