If the regime enters, we will be slaughtered
It was like doomsday…
It’s impossible for a part-time blogger to keep up with breaking news, and I generally don’t try. I started this post two days ago, when the humanitarian situation in Aleppo was already disastrous; now it’s beyond any words I can come up with. Here are a couple of quick quotes from dispatches over the past few hours:
From The Guardian: “By bus, by car, by walking, even crawling, we just want to get out. We have given up on our homes, our belongings, everything. Now we only want to get out…each bus can only take 50, and there are tens of thousands of us…It was so cold…people were slipping, falling into puddles, losing their luggage, even their families, it was like doomsday.”
From the BBC: “Thousands of cold and hungry civilians remain stranded in the rebel-held east of the city…Unicef says sick and wounded children are among the evacuees…hundreds of other vulnerable children, including orphans, remain trapped…the children are so hungry they are crying, they are freezing. Most of them are scared of a brutal end to the ceasefire. They are afraid that they will not be able to get out.”
Okay, right, those quotes could come out of any war, but this one is happening on our watch, and it’s on television.
Anyway, here’s the post I had started to write:
The least we can do is to pay attention…
It’s hard to read the news dispatches coming out of Syria, so I have to admit I sometimes just don’t…at least not in detail. I skim, and I think it can’t get any worse, and then it does. But I can’t remove myself completely, so I skim some more. But sometimes I’m stopped short by something that I can’t skim over.
A couple of days ago, it was a paragraph halfway through one of Anne Barnard’s reports from Syria for the New York Times. She was interviewing Hisham al-Skeif, a member of the rebel governing council, frustrated that international officials were talking to rebel leaders, but “no one appeared to be talking directly to the trapped civilians.”1
“We are about 1,000, including our families,” he said. “If the regime enters we will be slaughtered. Of course everybody is negotiating with those who are armed, but we are not armed. The armed can defend themselves, but we can’t.”2
If only we were armed…I’ve caught myself entertaining that fantasy myself – when I’ve heard about crimes in the neighborhood, for example, but I know it’s a fantasy. Such an appealing one, though – that if we only had bigger guns, or more guns, or tanks, or warplanes, we’d be safe. I can easily imagine myself in that father’s position and my heart breaks for him, but a gun in his hands will be no match for barrel bombs and napalm – or for the new Russian-supplied rocket which has been described as “one step down from a nuclear weapon.”
Addressing the United Nations, our ambassador, Samantha Power, asked: “Are you truly incapable of change? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin”?
Globe writer Thanassis Cambanis responded, “U.S. Ambassador Power is right to ask about shame. Ultimately, a great share of it will belong to her [our] government.”
For a time, the international community was a meaningful forum with a conscience, and it created new doctrines like the “responsibility to protect,” which held that any state that wantonly murders its citizens forsakes its sovereignty. New norms took root: War crimes still occurred but invited wider and wider condemnation…
We opposed torture and war crimes elsewhere because they’re dead wrong, but also because we don’t want out own citizens subjected to them. Today…we don’t stand against the leveling of Aleppo because we reserve the right not to be judged for similar crimes.
U.S. general says “It’s not our job”
According to Military.com, “The top U.S. general for Syria and Iraq said Wednesday the U.S. will do nothing militarily or on a humanitarian basis to hinder the Russian and Syrian regime onslaught against Aleppo or ease the plight of civilians seeking to flee. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said it’s not his job under current mandates to do anything about Aleppo, and nobody at the White House or in the Pentagon has told him otherwise.”I’ve watched Aleppo on TV; it’s horrible,” Townsend said, “but Aleppo is not in our charter here…I’m not responsible for what’s going on in Aleppo…I can’t really comment on the withdrawal, or the end is near, or any of that.”
Also according to the Globe, Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said civilians in eastern Aleppo ‘‘who had a glimmer of hope that the attacks would stop and that aid would finally reach them are instead trapped in a new brutal air and ground attack.’’
I don’t have any answers. Public and governmental pressure on Assad’s Soviet backers hasn’t accomplished anything so far. And the Trump administration will certainly not criticize Putin, let alone take any steps to stop the slaughter.
Reading the outstanding on-the-ground coverage of this disaster by The Times, the Globe, and others reminded me again of how much we owe to reporters like Barnard, who risk their lives helping us confront realities we’d probably rather avoid. The very least we can do is to pay attention.
Banner photo from UK Independent
Ohers, in order, Boston Globe, Guardian, BBC (cartoon unknown source)
1 A version of this story was also published by the Boston Globe under the headline, Syrian government moves closer to completely controlling Aleppo.
2 See also her subsequent article, Syrian government’s siege of Aleppo is almost over.
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