A bad end to a bad week

I know it’s Friday night so I’m shouting into the void, but I spent last week and much of this week covering the aborted–well, that’s not totally fair; “aborted” suggests that it had a shot of actually coming to fruition at some point–ceasefire in Syria, and now that it’s all over but the literal shouting we should note the cherry on top of the shit sundae:

Repeated airstrikes that obliterated buildings and engulfed neighborhoods in flames killed about 100 people in Aleppo, the divided northern Syrian city that has epitomized the horrors of the war, turning the brief cease-fire of last week and hopes for humanitarian relief into faint memories. The bombings knocked out running water to an estimated two million people, the United Nations said.

“It is the worst day that we’ve had for a very long time,” said James Le Mesurier, the head of Mayday Rescue, which trains Syrian rescue workers. “They are calling it Dresden-esque.”

My words won’t do it justice, so here’s some video from France 24:

Assad, freed from the burden of having to pretend to support a ceasefire that was clearly all Moscow’s idea, seems intent now on finishing the fight in Aleppo without even a minimal regard for civilian casualties. Which, if he continues like this, is a policy that could very well force a confrontation between the US and Russia, assuming the humanitarian situation becomes horrific enough to pull Washington into taking action. Today’s strikes damaged, among many other things, eastern Aleppo’s water pumping station, and that comes on the heels of a strike on Wednesday that killed four Aleppan health care workers, the latest in what certainly seems like an intentional Russian and Syrian campaign to deprive every Syrian living outside of Bashar al-Assad’s protection (the similarities between autocratic governments and the mafia are sometimes quite stark) of access to medical care.

Deliberate strikes against hospitals and water supplies (and aid convoys, while we’re on the subject) are war crimes, but when you’re desperate to stay in power and don’t care how many people you have to kill to make that happen they’re very effective, because they are multipliers. Blowing up a water pumping station doesn’t just kill people at the station, it potentially kills many more people for lack of clean water. Killing a doctor or destroying a hospital doesn’t just kill that doctor or that hospital staff, it kills everybody who might have needed their care to survive.

This isn’t an argument in favor of the rebels, who have long since hitched their wagons to al-Qaeda’s horses (in spirit even when not in practice) and thereby disqualified themselves from ever governing Syria, or their political leaders who, from their comfortable expatriate hotel rooms in Cairo and Istanbul, allowed that to happen. It’s also not an argument in favor of the United States and its cynical decision to do just enough to prolong the war when it could have done more (I know, but how much worse could it have gotten?) or, hey, not gotten involved at all. It’s not really an argument at all. The question of whether the concept of “humanitarian intervention” has any actual meaning is something I wrestle with, and I still don’t have a good answer in large part because the historical record around so-called “humanitarian interventions” is pretty gruesome. So I’m not advocating for anything. This is just a reflection on the state of things in Syria as we approach the possibility that many of the ~250,000 people trapped (well, most of them are trapped, anyway) in eastern Aleppo today might not be alive very much longer.


One thought on “A bad end to a bad week

  1. Australia and NZ has done two successful interventions (with help). East Timor and Solomon Islands. The difference is there was no external powers meddling (in East Timor diplomacy kept Indonesia in check). If a certain Prussian was alive he may have said humanitarian missions are a continuation of war by other means.

    A long time ago in school we were taught the first duty of government is order. At Westphalia we decided one doesn’t mess with the internals of other countries. The middle east actors should have gone to my school.

    PS Australia was involved in the mistaken attack on the Syrian Army. This makes it the third time we’ve fought in Syria, the first was against the Ottomans and then the Vichy French.

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