The tragedy of Aleppo is not only a giant human rights failure on the part of the West that will eventually haunt us for the years to come. It is also a geo-strategic failure whose consequences are difficult— but not impossible — to repair.
The U.S. policy under President Barack Obama was based on a number of premises:
First, the U.S. interventions abroad had only caused pain and suffering to people who now resent it and has taken American casualties. Thus, what needs to be done is avoid confrontation by engaging our enemies and adversaries.
The Iran deal is the product of that policy.
But the Iran deal came with a price.
Apart from all the discussions about whether the deal stops a nuclear Iran or not, it is clear that the agreement excluded Iran’s subversive and terrorist activities that now have expanded to Syria, Iraq, Yemen, some Gulf countries, and others.
Similarly, Obama has given to the Iranians the guarantee that he will not interfere in Iran’s aspiration to seek a significant sphere of influence in the Middle East.
Indeed, the president told journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, that Saudi Arabia and Iran need to find a way “to share the neighborhood.”
Of course, this will further embolden Iran.
Iran felt free to continue supporting Assad’s murderous campaign against its enemies.
Something similar happened with Russia. Regardless of the administration’s statements to the contrary, Russia’s intervention in Syria was viewed as an opportunity to defeat the Islamic State. President Obama by then thought the cost of getting rid of Bashar Al Assad’s was too high.
Therefore, Assad’s survival was accepted as long as ISIS was defeated.
The administration meanwhile provided timid help to anti-Assad rebels and refused to create a no-fly zone in Syria in order to avoid any U.S. military engagement in case the no fly zone was violated.
At this point, the city of Aleppo — previously in the hands of the rebels — is being bombed, people are being burned alive or in the best case scenario they are being evacuated and becoming refuges. Incredibly so, simultaneously the city of Palmyra that the Assad government successfully recovered a year ago, was falling again in the hands of ISIS.
That did not seem to bother Russia or Assad. But this makes sense. The rebels represent a genuine opposition to the regime of Bashar Assad that has lost legitimacy a long time ago.
The assumption was that even after Assad retakes Aleppo, there will be an underground resistance against the government because The Syrian president never again will be able to establish legitimate rule. The forces of dissent are irreversible and are unlikely to remain passive.
The fact that the U.S. adopted a policy of withdrawal and fear of confrontation worsened the situation.
The fact, that the Trump team is considering an approach aimed at reducing Iran’s subversive and terrorist activities is a positive step.
As per Russia, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with attempting to normalize relations with an adversary like Russia. However, such normalization cannot take place without a show of strength on the part of the United States.
President-Elect Donald J. Trump’s statement about his support for a no-fly zone is a good first step. This will not only provide protection to Syrians so fulfilling an important humanitarian duty. Such step should deter the Russians from doing something clumsy like engaging American forces.
If we are concerned about engaging the Russians militarily, the Russians need to be equally concerned and therefore be equally deterred.
By the same token, even if we end up accepting some sort of Assad rule in Syria, such rule should not be all over Syria. It should be limited and Syria should be adequately divided.
This is another reason why the no-fly zone is important in addition to stronger support for moderate rebels whom we need to seriously vet but effectively arm them.
The Aleppo massacre should be a wake up call to seriously reevaluate our failed policies in the Mideast. Donald J. Trump has a superb opportunity to do so.
Published by Latin American Herald Tribune on Monday December 19th, 2016.