Aleppo is Destroyed, Mr. Obama Stands By
Washington Post Editorial Board
August 16, 2016
“DEVASTATING AND overwhelming.” Those are the
conditions in the ancient and once-great metropolis of Aleppo, according
to the head of delegation for the International Committee of the Red
Cross, Marianne Gasser, who was in the Syrian city recently.
“We hear that dozens of civilians are being killed every
day and scores more injured from shells, mortars and rockets,” Ms. Gasser
said. “The bombing is constant. The violence is threatening hundreds of
thousands of people’s lives, homes and livelihoods.”
War crimes appear to be near-constant also. The air forces
of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his chief backer, Russian President
Vladimir Putin, target apartment buildings, bakeries and — this is their
specialty — hospitals and clinics. The United Nations is investigating
credible reports that Mr. Assad
again has used chemical weapons, in this case chlorine gas. Water has been
cut off from hundreds of thousands of people.
The last surviving physicians in the rebel-held half of
Aleppo a few
days ago begged President Obama to help. “The world has stood by and
remarked how ‘complicated’ Syria is, while doing little to protect us,”
they wrote. “The burden of responsibility for the crimes of the Syrian
government and its Russian ally must therefore be shared by those, including the
United States, who allow them to continue.”
Why would these brave, forlorn doctors look to Mr. Obama
for rescue? Perhaps one of them, through the terrible din of war, remembers
hearing the president promise
to stand by the Syrian people as they were being “subjected to
unspeakable violence, simply for demanding their universal rights.”
Mr. Obama made his pledge during an address at the U.S.
Holocaust Memorial Museum in April 2012. He boasted that he had decreed, in a
first for any U.S. president, that preventing mass atrocities “is a core
national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States
of America.” That did not mean that the United States would “intervene
militarily every time there’s an injustice in the world,” he cautioned. But
when it came to Syria, Mr. Obama was clear.
people have not given up, which is why we cannot give up,” Mr. Obama
said. “And so with allies and partners, we will keep increasing the pressure,
with a diplomatic effort to further isolate Assad and his regime, so that those
who stick with Assad know that they are making a losing bet.”
Alas, that was many atrocities ago. According
to the Red Cross, more than 12 million Syrians — half the prewar
population — have been forced from their homes, with millions more under
siege. Hundreds of thousands have been killed. Well over 1 million have
been wounded. Iran and Russia continue to place their bets on the Assad regime.
And Mr. Obama no longer pledges to stand with the Syrian people, though he
remains clear-eyed about what they are facing.
“The regime and its allies,” Mr.
Obama observed at a Pentagon news conference this month, are engaged in
“vicious attacks on defenseless civilians, medieval sieges against cities like
Aleppo, and blocking food from reaching families that are starving.”
But the administration’s response has not changed: a
combination of halfhearted support for the rebels, who increasingly gravitate by
necessity to more extremist groups; requests to the Russians to behave better;
and finger wagging.
“It is deplorable,” the president said during his visit
to the Pentagon. Small comfort to the people of Aleppo.