Doesn’t this look like a nice place to visit? Unfortunately you’ve waited too long—it’s gone. That’s what Aleppo looked like six years ago.
Every evening the BBC World News leads with a report on Aleppo; it’s as if they’re trying to convince us that the war there is newsworthy while all of us (and I include myself) seem distracted by the idiocy of Trump’s latest cabinet appointments or outraged by some new proof of his illegitimacy. Out outrage belongs with Aleppo, where upwards of 250,000 have died, 80,000 of them civilians. (Some estimates have reached 400,000.) Maybe this pales by comparison with two million Armenians, six million Jews, or ten million Russians—but this time we’re watching it happen. We can’t claim afterwards that we didn’t know.
Meanwhile Bashar al Assad, Syria’s president, said yesterday that history is being made in Aleppo during this “liberation.” He conveniently omitted one fact from his self-congratulatory comments: while he fought the Sunni rebels, the infinitely more dangerous and brutal ISIS has reestablished control in Palmyra where they had previously been ousted. Assad doesn’t care—he’ll kill more of his own people later while denying (as he did yesterday) that such events are occurring.
The photos coming from Aleppo are heartbreaking—many of them have become iconic and we’ve seen them. We just haven’t been moved by them.
Over the past few months a seven-year-old Syrian girl, Bana al-Abed, has been tweeting the history of the city’s collapse—the attacks, bombings, deaths. This week she said she knew she was going to die. Western news outlets aren’t sure of the veracity or even the existence of this young girl—they fear it may be propaganda. We can only wish they had been so assiduous in their fact-checking when Donald Trump was claiming an increase in crime, or a decrease in employment, or that five trillion (or whatever number he made up) immigrants were running loose on the streets of of this country.
Whether Bana al-Abed exists or not is moot. The faces we see everyday of wounded and stricken children render fears of propaganda imbecilic. Without a doubt the U.S. has dropped the ball concerning Syria and I don’t see a ready solution, but let’s not forget that Russian military influence has exacerbated the situation, and that Russian planes and bombs are responsible for many of those deaths. Putin has used Syria for his own self-aggrandizement and to boost Russia’s role in destabilizing Europe. That’s Putin being Putin, regardless of what his friend Donald says.
But there is no justification—none—for Assad’s unconscionable genocide, yet it continues.
At this point the U.S. can do little other than provide humanitarian aid and hope it gets through. Syrian government forces seem to have won. But let’s at least be wary of Trump’s assurances that Vladimir Putin is a strong and therefore desirable leader. He isn’t. He’s a liar and an opportunist with designs on isolating America from its allies in Europe…for starters. He needed the right president to this—one so avid of praise that he would never see this coming —then arranged for Russian hackers to sway the election.
Everything is falling nicely into place for Putin, and if we sit back and watch this happen the same way we watched Aleppo fall, we won’t have far to look when we try to assign blame.