By Mick Krever, CNN
Russia’s earthmoving proposal to secure chemical weapons was not the result of benevolence, but because of President Obama’s threat of force, David Miliband, the new head of the International Rescue Committee and former British Foreign Secretary told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.
“I think President Obama convinced President Putin … that he was carrying a very big stick,” Miliband said in an exclusive interview in New York. “I think the Russians have taken that seriously. It would be wrong to describe Syria purely as a client state of Russia, but Russia is clearly a very influential ally of President Assad. And I think they've realized that the game was up. And I think that basically explains the shift that you're seeing.”
Whatever the outcome of a potential diplomatic deal – or military airstrikes – the humanitarian crisis in Syria seems to have gone ignored.
As the head of an organization whose chief focus is people in desperate situations, it is this aspect that Miliband is desperately trying to get the world to focus on.
“The use of chemical weapons is the tip of the humanitarian iceberg in this Syrian crisis,” he told Amanpour. “One in three Syrians have been driven from their homes. Two million Syrians out of the country.”
It is unclear what, if any, impact a solution to the chemical weapons issue – however vital – will have on the humanitarian situation.
“For a country like Lebanon, four million people in Lebanon; seven hundred fifty thousand Syrians arriving there,” Miliband said. “That's like every single Briton, sixty million of us, sixty five million of us, arriving in the U.S. … And that's why it's right to call it a regional crisis, not just a Syrian crisis.”
The response by the international community to this problem, he went on, has been “tardy and too small.”
The United Nations says that its response is only 44 percent funded.
The roadblocks are not just financial, Miliband said.
“I've met doctors in Jordan who are Syrian doctors, talking about how they've been targeted at checkpoints,” he told Amanpour. “I mean, that is taking us centuries back in terms of the way people should be trying to sort these things out.”
Miliband was a British member of parliament during the Iraq War – he now acknowledges that that conflict weighs on the minds of the Western public.
“One of the learnings is that humanitarian catastrophes can have political consequences,” he said. “A second important lesson is that whenever military action is contemplated, it needs a wider diplomatic and political strategy.”
“The question is can we learn from experience rather than be imprisoned by experience?”