The siege of Aleppo and what the U.S. is doing about it

posted at 6:01 pm on September 29, 2016 by John Sexton

The Washington Post’s Liz Sly and Louisa Loveluck had an excellent story yesterday reporting what it’s like for the estimated 250,000 people being hit with constant airstrikes in eastern Aleppo:

The bombings at night are the worst. There is no electricity in the rebel-held portion of eastern Aleppo, and the warplanes flying overhead target any light piercing the blackness beneath.

So families huddle together in the dark, gathered in one room so that they don’t die alone, listening to the roar of the jets and waiting for the bombs to fall.

After they do, rescue workers venture out, navigating the rubble and craters left by earlier bombings, to dig out victims without headlights or lamps. They haul them to hospitals swamped with patients being treated on the floor by doctors who barely sleep and must choose which lives to save and which to let go…

At least 1,700 bombs struck eastern Aleppo in the first week after the cease-fire’s collapse, according to the White Helmets civil defense group, a volunteer force funded by the United States and Europe that goes to the aid of people buried by buildings collapsed by bombs. Still, they keep raining down, with new bunker-buster bombs designed to be used against military installations blasting apartment buildings that house families.

Given that more than 250,000 people have already been killed in this conflict (some estimates say it’s close to half a million), the fact that another 250,000 people are trapped and facing starvation or extinction shouldn’t be a shock to anyone in the Obama administration. And yet it seems the White House plan is to do nothing but keep talking and hope Russia suddenly decides to turn over a new leaf. From a Washington Post editorial published Monday:

It goes without saying that this war-crimes-rich offensive, which Syria’s U.N. ambassador said is aimed at recapturing east Aleppo, has shredded the Obama administration’s attempt to win Russian and Syrian compliance with a cessation of hostilities. So naturally reporters asked senior officials as the attack was getting underway how the United States would respond. “I don’t think . . . this is the time to say where we will go from here,” one answered. Said another: “We’re waiting to see what the Russians come back with.”

In other words: Hem, haw.

By Monday, the administration’s response seemed clear: It will hotly condemn the assault on Aleppo, but do absolutely nothing to stop it.

Secretary Kerry may look like an idiot threatening to take his ball and go home long after it’s clear the Russians aren’t interested in playing his game, but it’s President Obama who set the boundaries of this conflict. As the Post editorial points out, “Putin and Bashar al-Assad regimes are well aware that the only U.S. action President Obama has authorized is diplomatic, and that they are therefore under no pressure to alter their behavior.”

Obama showed what he was made of when he backed away from the red line he set and now Russia is taking advantage of that unwillingness to do more than talk. The bottom line is that President Obama has misjudged Russia almost as badly as he misjudged ISIS and the price of that failure will continue to be measured in bombs dropped and Syrians killed.


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