In “Aleppo Is Obama’s Sarajevo”, Daniel Henninger writes,
“The more fundamental failure is that Mr. Obama has refused to permit the arming of people who are willing to fight on their own behalf against a dictator committed to the mass slaughter of innocent civilians.”
Everything Henninger writes about in the WSJ article about the cruelty of the siege is true. Depopulation is the goal of indiscriminate bombardment and starvation, because it facilitates military control. The Economist expresses the same sentiment in “Grozny rules in Aleppo”, with very reasonable concerns about what might have been done, and hasn’t.
It’s our desperate desire to identify the good side, and back it. But what if there isn’t any? Read Syria Policy Review Part 2 before you decide. The considerations do not simply involve religious doctrines. The crucial question is how the opposing forces would behave towards populations under their governance. Presently, the deaths of rebel atrocities number only a few dozen at a time, scarcely reported in the press. But what if they found it expeditious to kill more? The history of new revolutionary states is that of bloodbath.
Henninger’s article contains a factual error with a big emotional payload. He writes,
The more fundamental failure is that Mr. Obama has refused to permit the arming of people who are willing to fight on their own behalf against a dictator committed to the mass slaughter of innocent civilians.
The “Syrian people”, which means only people who have the misfortune to live there, are not the fighters of Aleppo. Aleppo is not the Paris Commune. It was noted in 2013 that the composition of fighters had a high proportion of foreign jihadis. This has doubtless shifted towards a more domestic weighting, as the reward of Paradise becomes too imminent.
But the fighters of Aleppo are not the denizens of Aleppo. The residents stay, not because they like the rebels, but because they are justifiably frightened that the regime will slaughter them, or drive them into the desert to die. Ras-Al-Ayn, one of the principal death camps of the Armenian Genocide, is only 170 miles to the east.
Perhaps the current administration carried the concepts of disengagement, and “lead from behind”, too far. But a remarkable aspect of American post-WWII foreign policy has been that most of it was fruitless, the expensive follies of our advanced civilization and values — compared, at least, to most of the rest of the world. The triumph of Containment was not to be repeated.
So a more vigorous approach at the outset, one which preserved more of the dignity and reputation of the United States of America, might have resulted in a very similar endpoint of human suffering. The problem then was the inability to identify leaders who shared our values and could also command the allegiance of fighters, most of whom had jihadist inclinations. There have always been Syrian patriots of intellect and political capacity, but lacking a popular base. This is the perpetual Arab tragedy.
The Syria conflict is very typical of history, between the primitive dynamism of the rebels and the more advanced social structure of Iran pressing in from the east. The more advanced civilization usually wins. This is likely the root of the current administration’s determined passivity.
Like Henninger, I feel a personal outrage that is hard to suppress. I see a duel-to-the-death between two monsters, superimposed in a double image on the helpless trampled underfoot. Had the rebels been given MANPADs a few years ago, the Russian ambassador to the U.N. might not be able to state (Yahoo),
“Had it not been for our involvement in Syria it might well be that the black flags would be flying over Damascus,” Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin told reporters in New York. “It could well be. This is the reality of the situation.”
Turkey makes MANPADs under license, and the Gulf States can buy them. The U.S. has not openly objected to the transfer. A choice not to supply them would be entirely up to Sunni states, religious compatriots of the rebels. The reasons for denial, should they ever come to light, could be useful to incorporate into our own thinking.