The Obama Administration has faced difficult and complicated issues in determining how the United States should respond to the vicious civil war that has engulfed Syria for more than two years.  Few governments on the planet are less deserving of US support than the secular Ba’athist regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. In addition to the brutal and ongoing atrocities it has committed against its own citizens, apparently including the use of chemical weapons, the Assad regime has actively facilitated Iran’s efforts to train and arm the terrorist group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Yet the main opposition to the Assad regime—a loose coalition of Sunni factions known as the Free Syrian Army—has increasingly come to be dominated by militant jihadists. From a US national security perspective, these militants may be as bad as or even worse than the regime they are fighting to replace. As a result, the Obama administration has avoided becoming directly involved in this conflict.

A less complicated matter for US officials concerns providing economic and military support for Jordan, which shares a lengthy border with Syria and which has been flooded with Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war.  Jordan has been a key ally of the United States for decades and has received foreign aid from the US in kind—over $800 million in FY 2012. It is one of only two Arab countries to sign a peace treaty with Israel and is committed to limiting the influence of Islamists within its own borders and elsewhere. It also has a highly professional military and an effective security apparatus that has provided valuable intelligence for various American military and anti-terrorist efforts. More recently, according to several news sources, Jordan has been providing military bases and related assistance for US efforts to train and support moderate Sunni factions involved in the Syrian civil war, with the hope that these moderate factions may eventually help to negotiate a settlement to the conflict. These newly empowered moderate elements might be able to form a coalition government with Assad’s Alawite backers, minus Assad himself and the top leadership in his government, which could block or limit the influence of militant jihadists.

Jordan is also, however, a relatively poor country with a small population—around six million people—and few natural resources.  Water for agricultural, business, and personal use is not plentiful. It is hardly in a position to be generous in dealing with the destitute or less fortunate from outside its borders. Yet Jordan has historically been a haven for refugees.Many of its inhabitants are Palestinians (or their descendants) who fled there during the Nakba (Catastrophe) that accompanied the birth of Israel, or later during the upheavals of the Six Day War in 1967. Hundreds of thousands of additional refugees arrived from Iraq following the US invasion in 2003 and the sectarian violence that subsequently erupted. The Syrian civil war has driven half a million more refugees to the country, and this number is expected to double by the end of the year. To Jordan’s credit, it has not sought to bar these refugees from entering—it has not built walls or fences to keep the refugees out or greeted them with tanks and machine guns. King Abdullah has publicly proclaimed that his country will remain a sanctuary for those displaced by the fighting in Syria. Such generosity of spirit, however, has corresponding social and financial consequences. The destitute families crossing the border into Jordan need food, shelter, and medical care. They place demands on the already stressed water supply and electric distribution system. Jordan should not be expected to bear this burden alone.

Refugees aside, Jordan is not without significant problems. Freedom House, a nonpartisan international human rights organization, has classified the country as “not free,” a significant decline from earlier classifications that placed it among the least repressive governments in the region. Tensions between the country’s indigenous Bedouin tribesmen and its Palestinian subjects have intensified. Cuts in government patronage jobs and other economic reforms have left many Jordanians unemployed. Riots recently broke out throughout the country when the government moved to cut subsidies on gas. Jordan nonetheless has an energetic and progressive ruler, King Abdullah II, who was educated in the West and who shares its political and social values. He has preserved Jordan’s close alliance with the United States. Few countries are more deserving, for moral as well as strategic reasons, of generous US assistance.