The Syrian Conundrum: Increasing Violence in Aleppo.
For many, Aleppo has become associated with one of two major events. Either it’s known for being part of the political gaffe moment that derailed Gary Johnson’s newest round of presidential aspirations, or it’s a reminder of a haunting image of a child pulled from debris/rubble in Aleppo. What is most telling, though, is that both of these associations can teach us some very telling things about our understanding of world events as Americans. First – the Johnson gaffe may well be seen as a dismissible mistake of which all humans make many. However, given lengthier pause and thinking – it begs the question of how many Americans are aware of international events, and how many would be able to detail the conflict in Aleppo articulately in similar circumstances to those Johnson faced. Second – the haunting image of that child is a reminder of the horrors of radical, violent upheaval being faced on a recurring basis in Syria. While I wouldn’t advocate for us joining in the fighting in Syria directly, we must decide on our primary purposes with regards to Syria under a new administration. Are we advocates for ending outright hostilities and pushing for resuming peace with the existing powers that be? Of course, that assumes we can even help end the civil war while at the same time recognizing that overlooking the abuses of President Bashar al-Assad and Putin's Russia acting on Assad's behalf bring us to their level. Or, are we to remain humanitarians attempting to provide aid, medical treatment, and supplies to a devastated region that only seems to become more scarred as the clashes continue with few, brief pauses.
Yesterday, November 18th, marked four harsh days of continued artillery fire in Aleppo.1 Russian involvement, often criticized for indiscriminate targeting and questionable motivations for intervention in the first place, has been a problematic element for Western countries since it began overtly in September of last year.2 That said - the Russian responses is fairly direct when pushed on this point. They’ve asserted that their support and intervention has prevented the expansion of territory held by ISIS/IS and similar terrorist groups. Given Russian fears regarding Chechen rebels closer to home, they may well be speaking candidly and honestly. However, among the damning accusations levied by Western powers are those that Russian airstrikes have intentionally targeted Western-backed rebel/opposition groups and hospitals.2 Whatever motivations may be claimed, the realities implied by those strikes are impossible to ignore.
In more optimistic, hopeful news related to Aleppo & Syria: Scotland has welcomed over a thousand refugees from Syria over the last year.3 Worth noting, too, is that roughly another 3,000 have also arrived elsewhere in the UK – bringing the number of refugees up to 4,000+ of the commitment to 20,000 by 2020.3 While this clearly opens the door for discussions of the risks involved in welcoming immigrants from a war-ravaged country with terrorist acts\recruiting being commonplace, the greater importance must be placed on helping those displaced and endangered. Seeing the UK, among other nation-states, accepting refugees offers hope in a desperately needed time.
I won’t claim to have the correct foreign policy, military strategy, or even moral stances with regards to Aleppo. It’s one of many tragic situations in the Middle East (or even worldwide) that represents a problem without perfect solutions. The variables and history involved are too confounding to lend themselves to simplistic answers with white/black morality. Supporting rebel groups favoring alliances with Western leadership or flat out longing for democracy sounds perfect, but there’s the risk of such an effort putting us in direct conflict with Russia as they defend Assad’s holdings. Additionally, supporting any faction means being involved at least on the fringes of the ongoing conflict, and such efforts seem often to lead to being dragged deeper and deeper into the fray. Thus, I imagine our best hopes to be engaging in open discussions, diplomacy, and (when prudent) having our military and intelligence communities coordinate as necessary to protect civilian life. Additionally, offering medical and food aid when we’re certain it is getting to the right hands seems crucial. Apart from that, embracing refugees fleeing dangerous and deadly environments, within reasonable, safety-based concerns, seems best.
Falling back to the introduction: we need to learn to pushback against the common associations with Aleppo and Syria. Instead of Johnson’s gaffe, let’s focus on learning more about the situation on the ground and what we can do to help. Instead of feeling bitter heartache for the suffering of an innocent child, double down on your efforts to help. Let’s reframe our thinking from analytical thinking to compassionate thinking, and progress accordingly.
3 - http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-38011087?intlink_from_url=http://www.bbc.com/news/topics/45d1e6e1-6001-4449-801d-ba85eed04025/syrian-civil-war&link_location=live-reporting-story