International Affairs

Lessons of Aleppo—for Trump

December 16, 2016

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Lessons of Aleppo—for Trump

In this world, it is often dangerous to be an enemy of the United States, said Henry Kissinger in 1968, but to be a friend is fatal.

The South Vietnamese would come to appreciate the insight.

So it is today with Aleppo, where savage reprisals against U.S.-backed rebels are taking place in that hellhole of human rights.

Yet, again, the wrong lessons are being drawn from the disaster.

According to The Washington Post, the bloodbath is a result of a U.S. failure to intervene more decisively in Syria’s civil war: “Aleppo represents a meltdown of the West’s moral and political will—and ... a collapse of U.S. leadership.

“By refusing to intervene against the Assad regime’s atrocities, or even to enforce the ‘red line’ he declared on the use of chemical weapons, President Obama created a vacuum that was filled by Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.”

But the blunder was not in staying out of Syria’s civil war, but in going in. Aleppo is a bloodbath born of interventionism.

“Aleppo is a bloodbath born of interventionism.”

On Aug. 18, 2011, President Obama said, “For the sake of the Syrian people the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” Western leaders echoed the Obama—“Assad must go!”

Assad, however, declined to go, and crushed an Arab Spring uprising of the kind that had ousted Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. When the U.S. began to fund and train rebels to overthrow him, Assad rallied his troops and began bringing in allies—Hezbollah, Iran and Russia.

It was with their indispensable assistance that he recaptured Aleppo in the decisive battle of the war. And now America has lost credibility all over the Arab and Muslim world.

How did this debacle come about?

First, in calling for the overthrow of Bashar Assad, who had not attacked or threatened us, we acted not in our national interests, but out of democratist ideology. Assad is a dictator. Dictators are bad. So Assad must go.

Yet we had no idea who would replace him.

It soon became clear that Assad’s most formidable enemies, and probable successors, would be the al-Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaida, or ISIS, then carrying out grisly executions in their base camp in Raqqa.

U.S. policy became to back the “good” rebels in Aleppo, bomb the “bad” rebels in Raqqa and demand that Assad depart. An absurd policy.

Nor had the American people been consulted.

After a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they saw no U.S. vital interests at risk in who ruled Damascus, so long as it was not the terrorists of ISIS or al-Qaida.

Then came Obama’s “red line” warning: The U.S. would take military action if chemical weapons were used in Syria’s civil war.

What undercut this ultimatum was that Congress had never authorized the president to take military action against Syria, and the American people wanted to stay out of Syria’s civil war.


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