Syria: ‘pause’ before international storm?

Even as Russia and the Assad regime instate a "humanitarian pause" in the bombing of Aleppo, air-strikes continue in the surrounding countryside. Some 2,700 have been killed or injured in the bombardment since pro-regime forces began their offensive on the city last month. Over 250,000 remain under siege in what was once Syria's commercial hub. The eight-hour "pause" was extended by three hours after the UN protested that this was not enough time to allow aid deliveries. (AFP, Oct. 18) In one of the last air-strikes before the "pause," at least 13 civilians were killed—including 11 from the same family, according to the Aleppo Media Center. A six-weeks-old baby girl was among the dead. (The Guardian, Oct. 17)

With international eyes on Aleppo, the regime continues to make advances elsewhere in Syria, thanks to Russian air power. Two enclaves in the suburbs of Damascus, al-Hameh and Qudsaya, fell to regime forces this week, with their rebel defenders and their families fleeing to rebel-held territory in Idlib governorate. It is unclear if non-combatant residents will be forcibly "evacuated" to regime-held territory, in what has been called the "ethnic cleansing" of fallen rebel enclaves. (Syria Direct, Oct. 13)

The "pause" is doing nothing to quell fears of an imminent superpower confrontation. Turkeys' deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmus was the latest to warn: "If this proxy war continues, after this, let me be clear, America and Russia will come to a point of war." He said the Syrian conflict has placed the world "on the brink of the beginning of a large regional or global war." (Middle East Online, Oct. 12)

Such fears attend the controversy over proposals for a no-fly zone in Syria—which the people of besieged Alleop have been demanding for months. Syria Solidarity UK has outlined a plan for a no-fly zone that would not involve actually shooting down Russian or even regime warplanes—but striking regime airbases in retaliation for violations of the NFZ.

Nonetheless, bogus pseudo-news sites like the (idiotically named) AntiMedia and even, sadly, sites we hoped were more legitimate like The Intercept are jumping dishonestly on a Hillary Clinton quote that emerged from the latest WikiLeaks dump, said before a meeting at Goldman Sachs: "To have a no-fly zone, you have to take out all of the air defense, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we’re not putting our pilots at risk– you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians." AntiMedia offers this headline: "Hillary Calls for Killing 'a Lot of Civilians,' Starting War with Russia."

If you actually google the Clinton quote and go to a legit source like the New York Times and not some partisan bullshit site like AntiMedia, you will find that she was arguing against a no-fly zone! Not war-mongering and saying civilian casualties are acceptable, but exactly the contrary: looking for an excuse to nothing as Russia exterminates the Syrians. And this position—de facto collaboration with the Assad regime—has in fact been the actual US policy!

Donald Trump meanwhile plays to the peacenik crowd, saying that Clinton is too "tough" on Russia, and said that if he won the election, he might meet with Vladimir Putin before being sworn in. "They insult him constantly—I mean, no wonder he can't stand Obama and Hillary Clinton… It is the worst situation that we’ve had with Russia since the end of the Cold War, by far,… If I win on Nov. 8, I could see myself meeting with Putin and meeting with Russia prior to the start of the administration." (NYT, Oct. 18)

This is further evidence of Trump-Putin convergence. This, with his "bomb the shit out of 'em" comment clearly seeks to actively join with Russia in the destruction of Syria—with the perversely paradoxical support of some supposed "anti-war" voices.

Jonathan Freedland calls out such hypocrisy in The Guardian:

Pity the luckless children of Aleppo. If only the bombs raining down on them, killing their parents, maiming their friends, destroying their hospitals – if only those bombs were British or, better still, American.

Then the streets of London would be jammed with protestors demanding an end to their agony. Trafalgar Square would ring loud with speeches from Tariq Ali, Ken Loach and Monsignor Bruce Kent. Whitehall would be a sea of placards, insisting that war crimes were being committed and that these crimes were Not in Our Name. Grosvenor Square would be packed with noisy protestors outside the US embassy, urging that Barack Obama be put on trial in The Hague. The protestors would wear Theresa May masks and paint their hands red. And they would be doing it all because, they'd say, they could not bear to see another child killed in Aleppo.

But that is not the good fortune of the luckless children of that benighted city. Their fate is to be terrorised by the wrong kind of bombs, the ones dropped by Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin. As such, they do not qualify for the activist sympathy of the movement that calls itself the Stop the War Coalition. Indeed, it's deputy chair, Chris Nineham, told the Today programme that his organisation would not be organising or joining any protests outside the Russian embassy because that would merely fuel the "hysteria and the jingoism" currently being whipped up against Moscow. Stop the War would instead, explained Nineham in a moment of refreshing candour, be devoting its energies to its prime goal—"opposing the west."

We can hear already the dishonest admonishment that we should only protest the crimes of our own government. But this breaks down entirely when "anti-war" voices actively spread the war propaganda of the "other" side. We can even imagine Stop the War's stateside equivalents cheering on US bombardment of "terrorists" and "jihadists" in Syria if Washington were to openly block with Russia and Assad.

There have, however, been some anti-war protests within Russia. AFP reports Oct. 17 that some 200 demonstrated in Moscow against the Syria air-strikes, with one protester arrested by police. The opposition party Solidarnost apparently called for a protest, but banners expressed anti-war sentiment rather than any party allegiance. One banner read: "Putin assassin, don't bring shame on Russia." 

We have noted the emergence of an anti-war opposition in Russia before—and that being an anti-war protester in Russia requires far more courage than in the West . If only Green Party candidate Jill Stein had gone to Russia and met with these brave souls—the ones who share supposed "Green" values, and are standing up for them at great personal risk. But she didn't. She went to Russia and supped amicably with strongman and war criminal Vladimir Putin.

The notion that Syrians should keep dying to preserve world peace (such as it is) is not a particularly principled or courageous position.

  1. Kremlin sends more warships to Syria

    Moscow is sending the full might of its Northern Fleet and part of the Baltic Fleet to reinforce a final assault on the city of Aleppo in a fortnight, according to NATO intelligence, which is monitoring the movement through the North Sea. (The Telegraph)

    Amnesty International meanwhile issued a statement calling on the UN General Assembl to "step in to fill the void left by the Security Council members' catastrophic failure to end relentless attacks targeting the civilian population in eastern Aleppo city."

    The organization released new satellite imagery illustrating the scale of destruction, as well as testimony from civilians trapped in the city, providing evidence that regime and Russian forces "have callously attacked residential homes, medical facilities, schools, markets and mosques as part of a deliberate military strategy to empty the city of its inhabitants and seize control." It also claimed evidence that Russian-made cluster munitions were used.