An epic continuing battle continues for control of Syria’ largest city, historically one of the most famous centers of urban civilization in the world. Before its demise in the post-World War I Franco-British partition of the Levant it ranked with Cairo and Istanbul [Constantinople] as a major cosmopolis, the Western end of the famous Silk Road from China to the West.
A call by 15 physicians in a letter personally directed to Pres. Barack Obama has dramatized the dilemma facing Washington. Obama’s history of “drawing red lines” in the Syrian conflict only to be forfeited has confused foreign participants in the struggle and the American people. His statements led finally only to America abandoning Syria to the tender mercies of the ruthless Basher al Assad regime which allied with the Russians wages war on an unprecedented scale on its civilian population, matched by the incredible brutality of Daesh [ISIS or ISIL] and its terrorist allies in the opposition.
Government and rebels in the past few days have clashed in southern Aleppo, voiding a truce promised by the Russians to enter the city. Moscow had earlier promised “humanitarian windows” to permit humanitarian convoys of food and medicines to transit. Mosocw now refuses to comment on the current situation including the use of Russian planes against the rebels and civilian populations. Human Rights Watch listed six deliberate strikes in the past two weeks by al Assad regime or Russian warplanes on health facilities in the north that killed 17 people.
Obama’s determination not to involve the U.S. in another irresolute Mideast war is certainly understood by a war-weary American public and justifiable to many of his supporters among the foreign policy experts. But now that has to be balanced with the possibility of another one of those catastrophic destructions of human life which the U.S. and the world have promised “never again”.
The doctors point out that hospitals and medical facilities have become not accidentally but deliberate targets in the warfare. This small group of health providers remaining in the city is dealing with an impossible situation as their letter dramatizes, including a shortage of medicines and supplies which often culminates in triage among wounded children. Furthermore, the rebels accuse government forces of carrying out an attack Wednesday using chlorine gas on rebel-held residential neighborhoods.
It seems unlikely that Obama can openly reverse his Mideast and particularl Syrian policy in the last few months of his administration, He has made American withdrawal the essence of his foreign policy and with serious and obvious U.S. failures on all fronts, its ideological goal is about all that is left of his tattered effort for “transformation” of U.S. foreign policy. Whether he has the courage to do so with a good deal of obscurantist rhetoric remains to be seen.
But we believe it is incumbent on the Congress immediately to take the lead in this human crisis. The physicians have pointed out that Americans earlier had promised to set up “corridors” into the embattled areas. These would carry drugs and foodstuffs to the estimated more than 1.2 million living in the government-held zone as well as some 250,000 now in the rebel-held areas of the city.
Also additional public pressure must be placed on the al Assad regime through Moscow and its allies in Tehran to end what have been reported as recent chemical warfare attacks on the rebels by government forces, apparently with the tacit cooperation of Russian air. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Thursday he was “concerned by reports of a new chemical attack… that is said to have claimed four lives people and left dozens injured.”
A United Nations framework is in place to handle humanitarian aid to both those in the rebel and government areas. It is incumbent now that the U.S. tale the lead in utilizing it to prevent a monumental human disaster.