“What are we going to do about Aleppo?”
This question seems to be thrown around a lot at the moment now that the Syrian government is reclaiming control of the city. There are, however, a number of problems with this question.
The first glaring problem is the use of the pronoun “we”. If, by “we”, you mean the Syrian people, then perhaps you have some ground to stand on. If, by “we”, you mean the governments of the West, then “we”, instead of “doing” something, need rather to think about the consequences of “our” actions.
Aleppo is in a crisis, unquestionably. The fact is that Aleppo has been in a crisis for five years. So let’s rewind to 2011 in order to understand how we got here.
When the Arab Spring protests began and spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East, they were supported almost universally (including by myself) as displaying the political potential of people who had previously been deemed as “anti-democratic” or at least “undemocratic”. The rhetoric in the West has often centered around this virulent strain of Euro-centric “enlightened” thought.
For years (especially after the invasion of Iraq), pundits in the West got away with absurdly racist statements like:
“The problem with Iraq was that the Arabs needed a dictator to keep them in line. They don’t understand liberal democracy. They have a violent religion. These people have been fighting each other for thousands of years.”
In 2011, this presumption was decisively shattered as it became clear that real political representation was what the Arabs were dreaming about.
That also means that Iraq wasn’t thrown into a civil war because Arabs need a dictator, but rather because a brutal invasion and occupation by an imperial power fractured an already unstable society in a nation-state that was constructed to fail from the beginning.
There are a couple of lessons that we should have learned from Iraq.
You can’t terrorize a population into democracy.
So in 2011, the initially peaceful protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria were seen as opportunities to develop liberal democracies in dictatorships, the space opened for a peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy (successful only in Tunisia).
In Egypt, many were under the illusion that after two weeks, when Hosni Mubarak stepped down, that the peaceful protests in Egypt had achieved their goals and that peaceful transition had been accomplished. As Egypt sunk back into dictatorship, the world saw the evidence that the Egyptian military had never really let go of power.
However, there were two countries where events seemed to be somewhat analogous: Libya and Syria. So let’s take a look at the The Tale of Two Countries.
The sparsely-populated protests in Libya were not anywhere near as successful as the protests in Egypt. Whereas the protests in Egypt in 2011 had remained peaceful, the anti-government protests in Libya turned violent by mid-February of 2011.
When the protesters in Libya picked up guns, the police and military responded comparatively tepidly. However, journalists in the West were decrying “massacres” and warning that Gaddafi was about to slaughter every man, woman, and child in Libya. They said this daily, despite absolutely no evidence of such massacres (not totally dissimilar to today in Syria).
Those who had picked up guns began lying in order to coax the West into “helping”.
It was apparently the West’s job to bomb Libya into oblivion in order to save Libya. Was nothing learned from Iraq?
The West went to the UN and got a security council mandate to institute a “No Fly Zone”. This was, apparently, to keep the Libyan air force from dropping bombs on civilians. It should be noted that the Libyan air force was doing no such thing, as we now know. That mandate was reinterpreted by NATO to mean that they could start destroying Libya from the skies. The US began bombing key military points, destroyed the Libyan air force, and pumped money and arms into the hands of the “rebels”.
Now is the point where you should be asking yourself: “What if Libya had done that to the US?”
Imagine that in 2009, Libya had started funding the Tea Party protests. The protesters felt like the government wasn’t listening and they started receiving money and arms from Libya, who also promised to protect them. Thereafter, the Tea Party-ers began shooting at all the police and anyone who wasn’t joining the movement.
What would happen here?
Almost overnight in Libya, the spark of revolt ignited the wildfire of civil war. Thousands of people were killed on all sides, escalating the death toll (not reducing it, as Obama had assured us all). Massacres did occur, because of the invasion. Libya’s civil society was torn to shreds through the bullets and the bombs supplied by the West. And where did that get us?
Gaddafi was tortured and assassinated, his supporters were slaughtered in reprisal killings, the Libyan economy completely collapsed, all governmental institutions broke down (today, there are two competing governments), the (previously increasing) GDP went into free fall, terrorism spread (including people allying themselves with ISIS), and tribal warfare persists to this day.
So what was the result of NATO intervention to “protect” the Libyan people?
Libya today is a nightmare.
So why did NATO intervene in the first place?
And no one seems to be addressing the lies that went along with that invasion (just as the lies that lead to all imperial invasions, be it in Vietnam, Serbia, Afghanistan, Somalia, or Iraq). Somehow people forget what they were told to justify each and every war.
Obama said that there were massacres happening and that more were inevitable. Obama said that the invasion would save lives (he even invoked a new international paradigm: The Right to Protect). Obama said that NATO would bring peace and stability (along with democracy) to Libya and to the region. He presented the roving bands of men with guns as the architects of a future, democratic Libya. And he argued that by bombing Libya, the US would bring about the end to a war.
Not a single one of his claims turned out to be true. This is what happens when people in the West ask the question: “What are we going to do?”
On top of this, he argues that it was the invasion of Libya that encouraged some Syrian protesters in the summer of 2011 to pick up guns in the hopes that NATO would also support them against Bashar al-Assad and start raining bombs over Damascus. Indeed, it wasn’t until the summer (when the Libyan “rebels” were winning) that Syrian “rebels” began their “armed struggle”.
That means, we can reasonably assume that without the West’s invasion of Libya, there might have been no war in Syria in the first place.
Those “rebels” in Syria 2012 successfully drove out government forces (police, military, government supporters) from most of the city of Aleppo through the use of suicide car bombs and house-to-house fighting. In eastern Aleppo, the different factions (the Free Syrian Army, Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, and countless others) set up their little statelets and declared themselves “liberated”. Aleppo was the epicenter of the civil war.
Last year, the government set up a full siege of the city, trying to encourage people to leave. Recently, the government (along with Russia) established humanitarian corridors available to everyone, including rebels. The rebels responded by shelling civilians and burning the buses for the sick and the elderly.
Today in Aleppo, we’re told that the Syrian government (along with Russia) is murdering civilians on the scale of Srebrenica or Rwanda.
After all, Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government have a lot to gain from massacring the Syrian people, right?
Do you remember the obvious lie that Assad’s forces were the ones using chemical weapons against civilians? Do you remember how everyone repeated that lie even after journalists like Seymour Hersch proved that those claims were false? Do we have any reason to trust “reports” about Syria anymore?
Never mind the fact that these “reports” are coming with the caveat that “no one really knows” or the blatant and indiscriminate use of “unverified sources” telling us that Russia and Syria are using precision missiles repeatedly on hospitals, executing women and children, and carrying out war crimes of the highest caliber, all based on little evidence.
Where are these “reports” coming from?
From exactly the same people who were telling us of the “massacres” in Libya and the impending massacres yet to come back in 2011. We’re told that this information is reliable, just as we were told in 2011. What possible reason could we have for trusting them this time?
It’s the same people who said that the rebels in Libya wanted Western-style democracy (which is, of course, always worth killing for). Today, we can see that those who armed themselves in Libya were not acting in the interests of building a liberal democracy. They were no “humanitarians” picking up guns. They wanted power.
Of course the rebels in Libya were going to tell Americans and Europeans that Gaddafi was committing atrocities. It helped them. In that same way, the rebels in Syria are obviously going to tell Americans and Europeans that Assad is committing atrocities, regardless of the veracity of those claims.
So, given the high probability that “we” caused (directly and indirectly) the war in Syria, let’s ask the most important question.
What must be done to end the war?
It seems like the most obvious question, yet the one that’s never asked.
For the past five years, this war could have been ended at almost any point. From the beginning, the government seemed poised to make reforms. Once the war broke out, the UN got involved immediately in order to try to quell the violence.
Who rejected it? The roving bands of men with guns.
And after Annan, Lakhdar Brahimi and then Staffan de Mistura brought forward another peace plan. Again, the government accepted.
Who rejected it? The rebels.
Another peace plan. Another acceptance from the government. And yet another rejection.
At what point do we stop calling them “the men with guns” and “rebels” and start labeling them as terrorists, opportunists, and sectarian murderers. After every ceasefire attempt, both sides accuse each other of breaking the ceasefire and the war resumes.
Again, what would be the response of the United States government if groups of angry Americans picked up guns and started shooting police and military personnel?
The myth that these people are looking to build some sort of Western liberal democracy has long been debunked. Aside from those in Rojava and an admittedly few members of the remnants of the Free Syrian Army, not a soul has been talking about democracy from among the ranks of Jabhat al-Nusra, ISIS, or the countless other groups that spring up and then separate after a few weeks.
Just as in Libya, those in Syria picking up arms against the government are interesting in one thing: power.
And who has supported them in this goal? The West.
Since the beginning of the war, the so-called rebels in Syria have been trained, encouraged, and bankrolled by the West.
And why is the West so interested in destabilizing Syria?
It’s clear that the West has a lot to gain from a war in Syria. Iran and Hezbollah are weakened. Russia is stuck putting resources into defending an ally. Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s influence is extended in the region.
Far from ending the war, this policy has had only one consequence: prolonging it. And prolonging has been great business for the West, because they’ve managed to expand their position geopolitically. That’s a hard fact for those who are sympathetic with the fantasy of overthrowing the last Arab nationalist government.
Even if one has good intentions filled with hope about a free, united, democratic Syria, then it must at least be admitted that the tactics were flawed from the beginning of the “armed struggle”. In the past 100 years, violent insurgencies have been successful 25% of the time, whereas non-violent insurgencies have been successful 50% of the time.
The weapons from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the US, and the West fueled the war from day one. We can easily see why Syria is in shambles. The indiscriminate use of violence by these countries has also been widespread and has gone unreported.
Why is no one talking about Turkey’s invasion of Syria and separation of the Rojava cantons?
And those who thought that the government and its supporters were going to sit back and let themselves be violently displaced were clearly looking at the situation though some sort of kaleidoscope.
Assad is a member of the Alawi religious minority in Syria, “Syria’s most-hated ethnic group“. The majority of the rebels trying to overthrow the government are Sunnis who are not exactly happy with the fact that a Shi’a religious minority seems to have control of the state. So let’s look at it from the perspective of the Alawi community. If Assad gives up power to violent rebels (even the so-called “moderate” ones), the Alawis will most likely be the victims of the most brutal genocide of the 21st century.
Despite all those who want to talk about “impending massacres”, it seems that no one talks about that one.
It should’ve been apparent from the beginning that this was an unacceptable option for those in power. Assad was never going to relinquish power when that threat looming. Look at what ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra are capable of.
Look at the rebels who have filmed themselves desecrating and even eating the corpses of their victims.
Because, in spite of all the rhetoric that Assad’s government is the acme of Machiavellian politicking, we know who the true Machiavellians are – the Gulf kingdoms (Western-backed dictatorships), President Erdogan, and, of course, the US government (and its European lackeys), who have been all too willing to make alliances with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups in order to destroy Syria from within.
So what are “we” going to do about Aleppo?
“We” have already done so much to Aleppo. Aleppo is one of the primary victims of imperialist meddling. What the West should do about Aleppo is what the West should’ve done from the beginning: stay out.
For it is only by staying out of Syria that we all can hope that one day soon, the war in Syria will be over.