Half a million people in Syria weren’t murdered overnight. It took a few years for that to happen. Five, to be exact. Aleppo, once the most populous city in Syria, dating back to the 2nd millennium, B.C., is now a wasteland. It’s a scene of desolation, piled high with a surreal mixture of the skeletons of its buildings and people. We’ve been witnessing the destruction of this city for years now. We’ve watched helplessly while its people marched across our TV screens to their deaths, like some perverse funeral procession.
It may be a relief for some to learn that it’s all about to come to an end now. The last few weeks, Syrian President and human butcher, Bashar al-Assad, with the aid of Vladimir Putin and the Iranians, has smashed his way through the city with barrel bombs, rockets, and mortars—from west to east—while his forces are savagely murdering, raping, and kidnapping men, women, and children. There have even been reports in the last 48 hours of multiple mass killings.
But it’s almost over. As of Tuesday, al-Assad is just about to wipe up the last little bit of humanity still huddled in a pocket of the city on the eastern side. After that chore is complete, he and Russia and Iran will possess this city, to do with what they please. Or, what’s left of it, anyway; as the rest of the world can goes on about its business.
As we all watched the Syrian people suffer this five-year nightmare, many have wondered, could we have helped? The answer is, yes, we could have. Should we have helped? Absolutely. Was it complicated? Yes. It’s complexity almost defied understanding. This situation involved three separate conflicts: a local and global proxy war; an uprising against Assad’s dictatorship; and a fight against Islamic extremists. Should we have let the fact that it was complicated keep us from doing the right thing?
That seems to be the million-dollar question. It’s certainly easy to sit in our armchairs in the comfort and safety of our own homes and try to answer questions about what we should or shouldn’t have done. Some will say that we did what we could, at least, diplomatically. But Secretary of State John Kerry wore out that whole diplomacy thing, to the point where it just seemed like each ceasefire-of-the-week crumbled.
The Obama administration only wanted to dip their toes into this situation, but not actually get their hands dirty. That is, of course, after Obama effectively gave Assad the green light for this conflict by drawing a meaningless red line in 2013 when he discovered Assad was using chemical warfare against his own people.
If we had reacted militarily to Assad’s provocations, or the Russians’, most of us would have been committing our countrymen, not ourselves, to the fight. Would it have been worth the loss of American lives—our sons and daughters, husbands and wives—to stop these barbarians?
Well, ignoring the fact, if we can, that more than 400,000 people lost their lives in this conflict, in turning a blind eye to it, it is likely we have helped unleash an evil on the world stage the likes of which we have never seen before. Recall that president Obama made his infamous statement about “a red line in the sand” and then failed to enforce it. The United States of America was seen by the rest of the world as feckless.
Syria, Russia, and Iran are waving victory flags right now. All three countries have been emboldened by the recapture of Aleppo. And it will not end here. They will likely attack other rebel-held areas of Syria in exactly the same way as they did Aleppo. Why? Because they know they can, even with the world watching.
We have demonstrated to them, and to the world, in glorious technicolor that no matter what they do—murder, rape, pillage, torture—there will be no consequences. We’ve confirmed what many already suspected after WWII—that America will police the world, but only if there is something in it for us. So, Russia can continue its territorial chess game with the addition of Syria’s strategic Mediterranean ports. And, Iran’s adrenalin rush from the Aleppo victory, combined with Obama’s outrageous Iranian nuclear deal, will help make Iran dangerous in ways we cannot yet begin to comprehend.
This tragedy might have been averted, or at least mitigated, if the United States had enforced real consequences over that red line three years ago. We just have to hope now that Trump can regain the world’s respect by showing the world the consequences of crossing a red line.
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