World Affairs

The Gathering Storm

Wonder what President Obama is feeling about the coming massacre in Aleppo. Parts of the largest city of Syria have fallen into the hands of rebels. Now, Assad has sent a mighty invasion force to level it. Citizens of this historic town are fleeing in large numbers, accurately expecting massive bombardment from the artillery positions that the army has taken up south of the city. Shelling of the town has already begun and helicopter gunships swarm the sky raining hundreds of rounds per min with heavy machine-guns. Pitched battles are expected as the heavily-armed combat troops of Assad push back the lightly-armed rebels flocking to defend the city block by block. 

This is going to be a bloody massacre. Although, it only counts as a war crime if you line ’em up and execute ’em. No really, leveling a city to pacify it is legit no matter how many people die. It will nonetheless be a major atrocity. Out-manned and out-gunned, the rebels will be slaughtered alongside hundreds–dare I say, thousands–of innocent civilians who will die in the next few days. The tragedy is not that the martyrdom of the freedom fighters. Many hundreds have already been martyred. Nor is it the slaughter of civilians per se. One has to assume that the overwhelming majority of the perhaps twenty thousand killed so far were not fighters. [No one really knows how many have been killed. Estimates vary from ten to thirty thousand.] The tragedy is that it is so predictable and we have to watch this unfold to its bitter end. 

It is an entirely preventable massacre of course. It depends on the same question as it always has: who has the weapons? It is well within the logistic capabilities of the United States and regional powers, as well as Britain and France, to supply the weapons that the opposition needs to defend itself in short order. The military firm Raytheon alone could supply the few dozen Stinger missiles and anti-tank weapons needed to counter the regime’s helicopter gunships, tanks and armored divisions. 

The United States expresses alarm about the impeding catastrophe. The State department explicitly acknowledged the situation, saying that there was “concern that we will see a massacre in Aleppo, and that’s what the regime appears to be lining up for.” The United States ruled out the possibility of a military intervention by placing the blame squarely on the Syrians for not raising American flags as they cower in terror: “The kind of groundswell call for external support that we’ve seen elsewhere is not there.”

Absolute nonsense of course. The rebels and the populace of Libya did not ask for a military intervention either. In any event, a military intervention is not even required at this point. The ranks of the rebels have swelled in recent months to maybe thirty thousand with more joining every day. Hundreds of officers have defected. Communication gear has increased coordination. The fighters have gained experience and their tactics are getting increasingly effective. They have made major inroads into cities like Damascus that were until quite recently stable and under the firm control of the regime. The rebels have guns–although they need many more–but not enough ammunition. Most of all they lack heavy weapons to take on Assad’s military head on. The sums we are talking about are so small that a single billion-dollar plutocrat could finance the entire operation.

This is a must win for Assad. If he fails to take Aleppo–Syria’s ancient city that is the most populous and the commercial hub of this small country of twenty million–he will not regain control over the country. In all likelihood, the regime will either collapse or withdraw to the coast beyond the mountains and survive as a minnow: 

 

This is precisely why this is also a must win for the rebels. But the boss in Washington has decided not to take a gamble on the opposition since it is yet unclear what the replacement will look like*. (The CIA is merely helping to keep Saudi weapons getting into the hands of al-Qaeda). Obama is even restraining Turkey from supplying the rebels with heavy weapons. Come November 4, humanitarian-minded Americans can vote their humanitarian-in-chief back into office (“but the Republicans will be worse, you see”).

Now, let’s watch the massacre.

[Update (Monday 3am EST): The battle of Aleppo rages as of writing.  200,000 people have fled the city in the past two days. The Syrian National Council has appealed to foreign powers for heavy weapons. Visiting Abu Dhabi, the SNC chief said the rebels need weapons that can stop tanks and planes. He said that such supplies will “make Syrians able to defend themselves against this killing machine.”]

[*Actually, just read Sanger’s Consent and Conceal wherein he reports that the administration hit a compromise of sending communication gear and night vision goggles. Perhaps it was supposed to be a joke? The United States and the Obama administration have zero credibility when they claim to support the democracy activists in the Middle East.]

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