“Aleppo will be a stain on our conscience forever” (& Iran releases photos of U.S. sailors crying)

February 10, 2016

The Iranian regime has reportedly released new photos showing at least one of the U.S. sailors who were captured last month crying. Iran had previously published pictures showing the Americans kneeling at gunpoint. The U.S. military has now admitted that Iran confiscated SIM cards and other technology from the sailors. Yet John Kerry praised Iran for its handling of the innocent.

Meanwhile the “moderate” Rouhani regime has ramped up its indiscriminate attacks on Aleppo as it pours fresh troops into Syria.

 

NY TIMES COLUMNIST ATTACKS OBAMA’S SYRIA “DEBACLE” BUT IGNORES IRAN’S ROLE

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach four comment pieces below on Syria. They were published over the last couple of days in three major American newspapers: The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and New York Times. (There are extracts first for those who don’t have time to read them in full.)

The Syria conflict is the world’s most important ongoing war in strategic terms, as well as being one of the worst in terms of war crimes being committed (some by the “Islamic State”, but mostly by the Assad government and its allies). So it is important that the conflict is being covered by major American newspapers, even in the midst of a closely fought U.S. presidential campaign.

However, The New York Times in particular is deliberately failing to report on the war crimes being carried out on the ground in Syria by thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and special forces, backed up by the Iranian regime’s Lebanese militia Hizbullah. (Roger Cohen’s article below, doesn’t mention Iran once.)

It is not enough to point out that Russia is attacking Syria’s majority Sunni Arab population from the air. It is Iran and Hizbullah who are carrying out the atrocities on the ground, leading to a mass refugee exodus of Arabs into neighboring states and into Europe.

Of course, to mention Iran’s central role would, for the New York Times, be an admission that President Obama and Secretary Kerry’s Iran deal has emboldened the regime which has become ever more ruthless at home and abroad, particularly in Syria.

Dozens of IRGC senior commanders (including generals) have been killed, and the Iranians themselves have helped kill and wound thousands in Syria -- but you would have a hard time understanding this from the New York Times and many other western media.

***

One footnote:

In this dispatch last month (, writing about the fact the New York Times was completely ignoring the mass starvation of tens of thousands of civilians by Assad and Hizbullah forces, for the second week in a row, I “asked the several senior editors and reporters at the New York Times’ foreign desk and opinion page, who I know personally, and who subscribe to this email list, why there were no angry New York Times editorials or comment pieces about it.”

A senior editor at the New York Times told me the next day that he had circulated that dispatch around the New York Times editorial board staff. Two days later the New York Times did finally run an editorial denouncing the actions of the regime forces in Madaya and elsewhere, and even briefly mentioned the fact that “Iranian-backed Hezbollah units [having stopped any food getting in, were stopping civilians leaving the encircled town] with barbed wire, land mines and snipers.”

However, since then, the Times has again started to downplay the central Iranian role that is driving the Syrian war, in an effort to promote the myth of a newly moderate Iranian government under President Rouhani.

-- Tom Gross

 

* Please “like” these dispatches on Facebook here www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia, where you can also find other items that are not in these dispatches.

 

CONTENTS

1. “Enough is enough – U.S. abdication on Syria must come to an end” (By Michael Ignatieff and Leon Wieseltier, Washington Post, Feb. 9, 2016)
2. “America’s Syrian Shame” (By Roger Cohen, New York Times, Feb. 9, 2016)
3. “Syria’s Peace of the Grave” (Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 7, 2016)
4. “John Kerry’s desperate push on Syria” (By David Ignatius, Washington Post, Feb. 9, 2016)


ARTICLE EXTRACTS

ALEPPO WILL BE A STAIN ON OUR CONSCIENCE FOREVER

Michael Ignatieff and Leon Wieseltier, The Washington Post:

As Russian planes decimate Aleppo, and hundreds of thousands of civilians in Syria’s largest city prepare for encirclement, blockade and siege – and for the starvation and the barbarity that will inevitably follow – it is time to proclaim the moral bankruptcy of American and Western policy in Syria.

Actually, it is past time. The moral bankruptcy has been long in the making… This downward path leads to the truly incredible possibility that … the United States, in the name of the struggle against the Islamic State, will simply stand by while Russia, Assad and Iran destroy their opponents at whatever human cost…

If the United States and its NATO allies allow their inglorious new partners to encircle and starve the people of Aleppo, they will be complicit in crimes of war…

Aleppo is the new Sarajevo, the new Srebrenica, and its fate should be to the Syrian conflict what the fate of Sarajevo and Srebrenica were to the Bosnian conflict: the occasion for the United States to bestir itself, and for the West to say with one voice, “Enough.” …

The conventional wisdom is that nothing can be done in Syria, but the conventional wisdom is wrong… Operating under a NATO umbrella, the United States could use its naval and air assets in the region to establish a no-fly zone from Aleppo to the Turkish border and make clear that it would prevent the continued bombardment of civilians and refugees by any party… [I have been advocating this for the past 5 years -- Tom Gross]

Risk is no excuse for doing nothing. The Russians and the Syrians would immediately understand the consequences of U.S. and NATO action: They would learn, in the only language they seem to understand, that they cannot win the Syrian war on their repulsive terms…

This is what U.S. leadership in the 21st century should look like: bringing together force and diplomacy, moral commitment and strategic boldness, around an urgent humanitarian objective that would command the support of the world… Aleppo will be a stain on our conscience forever…

 

SYRIA HAS BEEN THE BLOODY GRAVEYARD OF AMERICAN CONVICTION

Roger Cohen, The New York Times:

The troubling thing is that the Putin policy on Syria has become hard to distinguish from the Obama policy.

Sure, the Obama administration still pays lip service to the notion that Assad is part of the problem and not the solution, and that if the Syrian leader may survive through some political transition period he cannot remain beyond that. But these are words…

Aleppo may prove to be the Sarajevo of Syria. It is already the Munich. By which I mean that the city’s plight today, its exposure to Putin’s whims and a revived Assad’s pitiless designs, is a result of the fecklessness and purposelessness over almost five years of the Obama administration…

Obama’s Syrian agonizing, his constant what-ifs and recurrent “what then?” have also lead to the slaughter in Paris and San Bernardino. They have contributed to a potential unraveling of the core of the European Union as internal borders eliminated on a free continent are re-established as a response to an unrelenting refugee tide…

Syria is now the Obama administration’s shame, a debacle of such dimensions that it may overshadow the president’s domestic achievements.

Obama’s decision in 2013, at a time when ISIS scarcely existed, not to uphold the American “red line” on Assad’s use of chemical weapons was a pivotal moment in which he undermined America’s word, incurred the lasting fury of Sunni Gulf allies, shored up Assad by not subjecting him to serious one-off punitive strikes, and opened the way for Putin to determine Syria’s fate…

As T.S. Eliot wrote after Munich in 1938, “We could not match conviction with conviction, we had no ideas with which we could either meet or oppose the ideas opposed to us.” Syria has been the bloody graveyard of American conviction…

 

EVEN MEMBERS OF THE PRO-OBAMA NATIONAL SECURITY ESTABLISHMENT ARE CALLING FOR HIM TO DROP HIS LET-IT-BURN POLICY

Editorial, The Wall Street Journal:

President Obama and John Kerry are lucky the presidential primaries are occupying Washington’s attention, because otherwise more people might notice the human and strategic catastrophe unfolding in Syria. Even as the Secretary of State was touting his Syrian peace talks in Geneva last week, Bashar Assad, Russia and Iran were expanding their bloody siege against the opposition around Aleppo…

Kerry had graciously not insisted on an immediate cease fire as a condition of the talks, so Assad used the diplomatic cover to ramp up his assault on the moderate Sunni opposition. Backed by Russian air power, Hezbollah and elite Iranian troops, Assad’s forces are trying to wipe out what’s left of the opposition that isn’t allied with Islamic State or the jihadist Nusra Front. So much for Obama’s 2011 pledge that Assad must “step aside.”

The Syrian disaster is becoming so painfully obvious that even members of the pro-Obama national security establishment are calling for the President to drop his let-it-burn policy. Veteran diplomats Nicholas Burns and James Jeffrey wrote last week in the Washington Post that the Syrian war “has metastasized into neighboring countries and the heart of Europe. It could destabilize the Middle East for a generation.” No kidding…

We wonder where these fellows were five years ago when we and Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham were calling for precisely these steps…


FULL ARTICLES

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH – U.S. ABDICATION ON SYRIA MUST COME TO AN END

Enough is enough – U.S. abdication on Syria must come to an end
By Michael Ignatieff and Leon Wieseltier
Washington Post
February 9, 2016

As Russian planes decimate Aleppo, and hundreds of thousands of civilians in Syria’s largest city prepare for encirclement, blockade and siege – and for the starvation and the barbarity that will inevitably follow – it is time to proclaim the moral bankruptcy of American and Western policy in Syria.

Actually, it is past time. The moral bankruptcy has been long in the making: five years of empty declarations that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must go, of halfhearted arming of rebel groups, of allowing the red line on chemical weapons to be crossed and of failing adequately to share Europe’s refugee burden as it buckles under the strain of the consequences of Western inaction. In the meantime, a quarter-million Syrians have died, 7 million have been displaced and nearly 5 million are refugees. Two million of the refugees are children.

This downward path leads to the truly incredible possibility that as the Syrian dictator and his ruthless backers close in on Aleppo, the government of the United States, in the name of the struggle against the Islamic State, will simply stand by while Russia, Assad and Iran destroy their opponents at whatever human cost.

It is time for those who care about the moral standing of the United States to say that this policy is shameful. If the United States and its NATO allies allow their inglorious new partners to encircle and starve the people of Aleppo, they will be complicit in crimes of war. The ruins of our own integrity will be found amid the ruins of Aleppo.

Indiscriminate bombardment of civilians is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. So is the use of siege and blockade to starve civilians. We need not wait for proof of Assad’s and Vladimir Putin’s intentions as they tighten the noose. “Barrel bombs” have been falling on bread lines and hospitals in the city (and elsewhere in Syria) for some time. Starvation is a long-standing and amply documented instrument in Assad’s tool kit of horrors.

Aleppo is an emergency, requiring emergency measures. Are we no longer capable of emergency action? It is also an opportunity, perhaps the last one, to save Syria. Aleppo is the new Sarajevo, the new Srebrenica, and its fate should be to the Syrian conflict what the fate of Sarajevo and Srebrenica were to the Bosnian conflict: the occasion for the United States to bestir itself, and for the West to say with one voice, “Enough.” It was after Srebrenica and Sarajevo – and after the air campaign with which the West finally responded to the atrocities – that the United States undertook the statecraft that led to the Dayton accords and ended the war in Bosnia.

The conventional wisdom is that nothing can be done in Syria, but the conventional wisdom is wrong. There is a path toward ending the horror in Aleppo – a perfectly realistic path that would honor our highest ideals, a way to recover our moral standing as well as our strategic position. Operating under a NATO umbrella, the United States could use its naval and air assets in the region to establish a no-fly zone from Aleppo to the Turkish border and make clear that it would prevent the continued bombardment of civilians and refugees by any party, including the Russians. It could use the no-fly zone to keep open the corridor with Turkey and use its assets to resupply the city and internally displaced people in the region with humanitarian assistance.

If the Russians and Syrians sought to prevent humanitarian protection and resupply of the city, they would face the military consequences. The U.S. military is already in hourly contact with the Russian military about de-conflicting their aircraft over Syria, and the administration can be in constant contact with the Russian leadership to ensure that a humanitarian protection mission need not escalate into a great-power confrontation. But risk is no excuse for doing nothing. The Russians and the Syrians would immediately understand the consequences of U.S. and NATO action: They would learn, in the only language they seem to understand, that they cannot win the Syrian war on their repulsive terms. The use of force to protect civilians, and to establish a new configuration of power in which the skies would no longer be owned by the Syrian tyrant and the Russian tyrant, may set the stage for a tough and serious negotiation to bring an end to the slaughter.

This is what U.S. leadership in the 21st century should look like: bringing together force and diplomacy, moral commitment and strategic boldness, around an urgent humanitarian objective that would command the support of the world. The era of our Syrian abdication must end now. If we do not come to the rescue of Aleppo, if we do not do everything we can to put a stop to the suffering that is the defining and most damaging abomination of our time, Aleppo will be a stain on our conscience forever.

 

AMERICA’S SYRIAN SHAME

America’s Syrian Shame
By Roger Cohen
The New York Times
February 9, 2016

The Putin policy in Syria is clear enough as the encirclement of rebel-held Aleppo proceeds and tens of thousands more Syrians flee toward the Turkish border. It is to entrench the brutal government of Bashar al-Assad by controlling the useful part of Syrian territory, bomb the moderate opposition into submission, block any possibility of Western-instigated regime change, use diplomatic blah-blah in Geneva as cover for changing the facts on the ground, and, maybe fifth or sixth down the list, strengthen the Syrian Army to the point it may one day confront the murderous jihadist stronghold of the Islamic State.

The troubling thing is that the Putin policy on Syria has become hard to distinguish from the Obama policy.

Sure, the Obama administration still pays lip service to the notion that Assad is part of the problem and not the solution, and that if the Syrian leader may survive through some political transition period he cannot remain beyond that. But these are words. It is President Vladimir Putin and Russia who are “making the weather” in Syria absent any corresponding commitment or articulable policy from President Obama.

Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, is now virtually encircled by the Syrian Army. A war that has already produced a quarter of a million dead, more than 4.5 million refugees, some 6.5 million internally displaced, and the destabilization of Europe through a massive influx of terrorized people, is about to see further abominations as Aleppo agonizes.

Aleppo may prove to be the Sarajevo of Syria. It is already the Munich.

By which I mean that the city’s plight today, its exposure to Putin’s whims and a revived Assad’s pitiless designs, is a result of the fecklessness and purposelessness over almost five years of the Obama administration. The president and his aides have hidden at various times behind the notions that Syria is marginal to core American national interests; that they have thought through the downsides of intervention better than others; that the diverse actors on the ground are incomprehensible or untrustworthy; that there is no domestic or congressional support for taking action to stop the war or shape its outcome; that there is no legal basis for establishing “safe areas” or taking out Assad’s air power; that Afghanistan and Iraq are lessons in the futility of projecting American power in the 21st century; that Syria will prove Russia’s Afghanistan as it faces the ire of the Sunni world; and that the only imperative, whatever the scale of the suffering or the complete evisceration of American credibility, must be avoidance of another war in the Middle East.

Where such feeble evasions masquerading as strategy lead is to United States policy becoming Putin’s policy in Syria, to awkward acquiescence to Moscow’s end game, and to embarrassed shrugs encapsulating the wish that – perhaps, somehow, with a little luck – Putin may crush ISIS.

Obama’s Syrian agonizing, his constant what-ifs and recurrent “what then?” have also lead to the slaughter in Paris and San Bernardino. They have contributed to a potential unraveling of the core of the European Union as internal borders eliminated on a free continent are re-established as a response to an unrelenting refugee tide – to which the United States has responded by taking in around 2,500 Syrians since 2012, or about 0.06 percent of the total.

“The Syrian crisis is now a European crisis,” a senior European diplomat told me. “But the president is not interested in Europe.” That is a fair assessment of the first postwar American leader for whom the core trans-Atlantic alliance was something to be dutifully upheld rather than emotionally embraced.

Syria is now the Obama administration’s shame, a debacle of such dimensions that it may overshadow the president’s domestic achievements.

Obama’s decision in 2013, at a time when ISIS scarcely existed, not to uphold the American “red line” on Assad’s use of chemical weapons was a pivotal moment in which he undermined America’s word, incurred the lasting fury of Sunni Gulf allies, shored up Assad by not subjecting him to serious one-off punitive strikes, and opened the way for Putin to determine Syria’s fate.

Putin policy is American policy because the United States has offered no serious alternative. As T.S. Eliot wrote after Munich in 1938, “We could not match conviction with conviction, we had no ideas with which we could either meet or oppose the ideas opposed to us.” Syria has been the bloody graveyard of American conviction.

It is too late, as well as pure illusion, to expect significant change in Obama’s Syria policy. Aleppo’s agony will be drawn-out. But the president should at least do everything in his power, as suggested in a report prepared by Michael Ignatieff at the Harvard Kennedy School, to “surge” the number of Syrian refugees taken in this year to 65,000 from his proposed 10,000. As the report notes, “If we allow fear to dictate policy, terrorists win.”

Putin already has.

 

SYRIA’S PEACE OF THE GRAVE

Syria’s Peace of the Grave
Editorial
The Wall Street Journal
February 7, 2016

President Obama and John Kerry are lucky the presidential primaries are occupying Washington’s attention, because otherwise more people might notice the human and strategic catastrophe unfolding in Syria. Even as the Secretary of State was touting his Syrian peace talks in Geneva last week, Bashar Assad, Russia and Iran were expanding their bloody siege against the opposition around Aleppo.

The peace talks in Geneva “adjourned” last week not long after they began, and no wonder. There was no peace to talk about. Mr. Kerry had graciously not insisted on an immediate cease fire as a condition of the talks, so Mr. Assad used the diplomatic cover to ramp up his assault on the moderate Sunni opposition to his Alawite regime. Backed by Russian air power, Hezbollah and elite Iranian troops, Mr. Assad’s forces are trying to wipe out what’s left of the opposition that isn’t allied with Islamic State or the jihadist Nusra Front.

Their strategic goal is to retake what was once Syria’s commercial capital while carving out a safe area in Syria’s west for Alawite control. Mr. Assad also wants to deny opposition access to the Mediterranean coast as well to the border areas with Turkey. The Free Syrian Army has used those areas for periodic resupply and refuge.

With Mr. Assad’s position fortified, he and his backers will be only too happy to return to the talks later this month in a much stronger position. Mr. Kerry, who has never met a concession he wouldn’t make, has already conceded to allow an interim government to form with Mr. Assad still in power. So much for Mr. Obama’s 2011 pledge that Mr. Assad must “step aside.” Syria may then concede to elections down the road that the regime can control.

The Assad assault is also escalating Syria’s human tragedy. As many as 70,000 refugees are massed along the Turkish border as they flee the regime’s indiscriminate bombing against fighters and civilians. Ankara has periodically provided refuge to Syrians during the five-year civil war, but it is under increasing pressure from domestic public opinion and Europe to stop the human flow.

The Syrian disaster is becoming so painfully obvious that even members of the pro-Obama national security establishment are calling for the President to drop his let-it-burn policy. Veteran diplomats Nicholas Burns and James Jeffrey wrote last week in the Washington Post that the Syrian war “has metastasized into neighboring countries and the heart of Europe. It could destabilize the Middle East for a generation.” No kidding.

The duo called for more U.S. help for “the moderate Sunni and Kurdish forces” as well “the creation of a safe zone in northern Syria to protect civilians, along with a no-fly zone to enforce it.” We wonder where these fellows were five years ago when we and Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham were calling for precisely these steps, but maybe they can shame Mr. Kerry at the next Council on Foreign Relations meeting.

In other Syria news, Mr. Kerry trumpeted U.S. contributions at a United Nations conference in London last week to drum up financial support for the refugees, who total an estimated 11 million during the civil war in addition to more than 250,000 dead. The U.S. has pledged nearly $1 billion, and if nothing else perhaps the money can buy more coffins.

 

JOHN KERRY’S DESPERATE PUSH ON SYRIA

John Kerry’s desperate push on Syria
By David Ignatius
Washington Post
February 9, 2016

Secretary of State John F. Kerry said in an interview that the United States is nearing a final “crunch time” on Syria – in which it will either make progress toward a cease-fire or begin moving toward “Plan B” and new military actions.

For Kerry-watchers, it’s a familiar moment of brinkmanship: He’s making a last, desperate push for a diplomatic breakthrough with Russia and Iran at a meeting in Munich on Thursday, even as he warns that the United States has “other leverage” if diplomacy fails.

Kerry’s problem, skeptics would argue, is that his strategy has the same logical flaws that have scuttled three years of Syria diplomacy: Russia and Iran won’t compromise on their fundamental support for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime; and President Obama won’t approve military tactics that could actually shift the balance. So each diplomatic inflection point comes and goes – with greater misery for the Syrian people.

But Kerry presses on, doggedly and, some critics would say, unrealistically. In the interview Tuesday, he offered a frank, on-the-record explanation of his approach.

From the beginning, Kerry has hoped that Russia would decide that its interests are best served by a political transition in Syria. Here’s how Kerry put the dangers for Moscow if there’s no settlement: “the threat of implosion in Syria, and the threat of a very prolonged war that keeps Russia embroiled on the ground, and the threat of increased numbers of terrorists.”

But rather than seeing disaster ahead, Russia seems to think it’s winning. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, assessed Moscow’s motivations bluntly Tuesday in testimony to Congress: “Increased Russian involvement, particularly airstrikes, will probably help the regime regain key terrain in high priority areas in western Syria, such as Aleppo and near the coast, where it suffered losses to the opposition in summer 2015.”

Kerry conceded that “ripeness” is crucial in negotiations. If one party thinks it’s winning, it makes demands that the losing side won’t accept – and the carnage continues. Kerry said it would be “diplomatic negligence of the worst order” not to make one last try for a cease-fire that could assist the thousands of civilians newly fleeing Aleppo.

“What we’re doing is testing [Russian and Iranian] seriousness,” he said. “And if they’re not serious, then there has to be consideration of a Plan B. . . . You can’t just sit there.”

Although Kerry wouldn’t discuss specific military options in Syria, he did offer some broad outlines. The aim, he said, would be “to lead a coalition against [the Islamic State], and also to support the opposition against Assad.” He said Obama has already directed the Pentagon and the intelligence community to move “harder and faster” against Islamic State extremists so that the terrorist group “is reined in and curbed and degraded and neutralized as fast as possible.”

Asked whether Obama would support more aggressive Special Operations forces tactics, Kerry responded that Obama has “already made the decision to put special forces in, and he’s made the decision to test the ‘proof of concept’ of how they are operating.” Impatient critics would argue that the proof of concept came 10 years ago in Iraq, and that Obama is temporizing.

Kerry said “sure” when asked if the administration would accept recent offers by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to send ground troops into Syria, noting that Arab special forces “could augment significantly the capacity to . . . do greater damage to [the Islamic State] much faster.” Certainly, wider Arab military involvement would up the ante in Syria.

Kerry pointed to the roster of other diplomacy that’s overshadowed by the Syria conflict: from North Korea to Ukraine, from Cuba to the South China Sea. And he discussed the nuclear deal with Iran, arguably his biggest diplomatic achievement, likening the Iranian pragmatists’ battle against hard-liners there to his fights with Congress.

“The hard-liners made Foreign Minister [Mohammad Javad] Zarif and President [Hassan] Rouhani’s life very difficult, just as hard-liners in the United States had a role in making – oppositionists, I wouldn’t call them hard-liners, I’d call them oppositionists . . . made it difficult for our negotiations,” Kerry said. But he sharply cautioned against any U.S. effort to support Rouhani’s camp in this month’s parliamentary elections: “The worst thing we could do is meddle.”

Kerry’s tireless, implacable diplomacy led Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News, to suggest in a tweet last week that perhaps he should run for president if Hillary Clinton falters. Asked about Murdoch’s trial balloon, Kerry responded: “I don’t think that’s how the process works. . . . There’s no reality to it whatsoever. . . . I’m doing my job, and there’s going to be no change.” That sounded like a diplomatic non-answer.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.