(To be published in Arabic for Arabi21)
Comparisons are being made between what Assad and his Russian-backers are doing in Aleppo, and the worst crimes of the Bosnian war. It is an apt comparison. But before you imagine that these atrocities will touch the conscience of the West, it may be worth remembering that the US assault on Fallujah in 2004 duplicated the Srebenica massacre in most details, and, in fact, had far more long-lasting destructive impact. It is also worth noting that Fallujah is besieged at this moment, by US-armed and trained Iraqi government troops, and by US-organized Shi’ah militias, with coordinated direct support of US military personnel.
Before you lament America’s failure to stop the suffering in Aleppo, you need to notice that they are imposing almost identical suffering themselves on the people of Fallujah. Up to 60,000 people have been trapped in the city since January. There is no food, no medicine, and all relief aid is barred from entering the city. Like Madaya in Syria, the people are subsisting by eating grass. When Assad imposed this kind of inhuman blockade of Madaya, France, Britain and the United States requested an emergency UN Security Council meeting to demand the lifting of the siege and to allow aid deliveries to civilians facing starvation.
You would be forgiven for thinking this statement came from an Assad spokesman talking about Aleppo; but it was a White House spokesman talking about Fallujah.
Let’s be clear about a few things; first, a war crime is not defined by the nature of the action itself, but rather it is defined by who commits it.The point being that you should not reasonably expect genuine outrage from someone about an atrocity which he himself commits. The massacre of Aleppo does not move the conscience of American policymakers.
Second, we have to discard a central myth of US policy towards Syria: “The US wants Assad removed from power.” No, they don’t. Officials have stated explicitly on numerous occasions that Assad can remain, and they even dismissed the rebel demand that the departure of Assad to be a precondition for peace talks. At most, the US foresees the possible departure of Assad no earlier than March of next year. We are talking about people who have a timeline for the perpetuation of the turmoil, not a plan for ending it. Strategic planners articulated this early in the war.
“Maintaining a stalemate should be America’s objective.” Wrote Edward N. Luttwak, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in the New York Times in 2013. “And the only possible method for achieving this is to arm the rebels when it seems that Mr. Assad’s forces are ascendant and to stop supplying the rebels if they actually seem to be winning.”
Former Israeli Consul General in New York, Alon Pinkus, was even more blunt, “Let them both [sides] bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.”
And that is precisely what US policy has been, and will continue to be: massacre equity management.