Monday, December 19, 2016

The Aleppo horror and considerations about a Western response

"As important as possession of Aleppo is, it has still been only one piece of one front in one war out of the complex of wars that have constituted the violence in Syria over the past six years." - Paul Pillar, Heartstrings and Aleppo The National Interest 12/18/2016

Pillar reminds us how hard it can be to untangle cynical political considerations and conflicting agendas from the humanitarian horror and pity that instances of wartime cruelty can invoke:

This process is now being applied to the battle within the Syrian civil war in the city of Aleppo, with government forces having recently concluded the battle by achieving surrender of the remaining portion of the city that rebel forces had held. This front of the war came to get disproportionate attention partly because Aleppo had been the largest city in Syria and partly because the battle there saw intense combat over an extended period. The length of the battle was in turn an artifact of how front lines of the war had evolved in that part of Syria. Both government and rebel forces each came to hold an enclave in the central part of Aleppo that was nearly surrounded by territory held by the other side—a prescription for prolonged siege warfare. Social media also have played more of a role than in some earlier situations, with much attention to tweets that may or may not have come from a 7-year-old girl in Aleppo. And as is common in such situations, other political and policy axes are being ground. ...

If one were to search for dispassionate and objective reasons to have more despair over Aleppo than over countless other instances of wartime suffering or of man’s inhumanity to man, such reasons would be hard to find. As important as possession of Aleppo is, it has still been only one piece of one front in one war out of the complex of wars that have constituted the violence in Syria over the past six years. There are many instances of brutality, at the hand of different perpetrators, to be found in the Syrian violence. [my emphasis]
And he focuses on a central fact of the Syrian situation:

There is little or nothing in the history of this war, the state of Syrian political culture, or previous efforts to recruit and train opposition forces to suggest that the mirage of a “moderate” element strong and cohesive enough to topple Assad and form the basis of a stable follow-on regime was ever anything but a mirage. Although it is true that some movement toward radical groups has been partly a matter of those groups being where guns and salaries were, the much bigger radicalizing element, in Syria as in other places with internal warfare, has been the war itself, engagement in which is an inherently immoderate act.
And he cautions about adding yet another bad analogy to our inventory of reasons to mount ill-conceived military interventions:

Looking beyond Mr. Obama, the prevailing treatment of the Aleppo episode threatens to inculcate damaging “lessons” to be applied to future civil wars. It is interesting that several of the critics of current policy mention Rwanda as such a lesson, because Rwanda was cited (including by the self-described “genocide chick” who is the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations) as a reason to intervene in Libya sufficiently to topple the incumbent regime there in 2011. We now have five years of results. Those results include a still-chaotic situation and continuing civil war in which the human suffering, including deaths well into the thousands, is far more than the genocide-in-the-making that supposedly was going to occur in Benghazi.
Bernard-Henri Levy, whom Glenn Greenwald so memorably described as "France’s most celebrated (and easily the world’s most overrated) public intellectual", makes just the kind of facile moralistic appeal for some vaguely-defined kind of Western intervention in Syria that Pillar warns against in the first part of this report, Is the age of humanitarian intervention over? - UpFront Al Jazeera English 12/13/2016:

An Al Jazeera English Inside Story report from this past weekend looks at What are President Putin's plans for Syria? 12/17/2016:

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