Monday, December 19, 2016

responsibility for Aleppo

Humanitarian impulses are strong in western democracies. We are appalled by images of ruined cities, endangered children, and senseless death. Today those images come from Syria. In prior years we anguished over the pictures from Afghanistan, Rwanda, Somalia, Bosnia...

Military analyst [and former British Army officer] Emile Simpson has a provocative piece today, "Stop the Hand-wringing about Aleppo."  Three years ago, I read his excellent book about modern warfare,
War from the Ground Up. Today he acknowledges the tragedy of the Syrian conflict but puts the blame on those active in the conflict, not the countries like the United States and the Europeans who stayed largely out of it. He says there were no good choices short of massive military intervention, and he doubts that that would have worked.

I am far from being against intervention in general. I just think the future of Western military intervention lies in supporting the governments of fragile states, not toppling them. In this respect, the successful French intervention in Mali in 2013 is a good template: in support of a government, rather than a regime change; against a clear military target; and with good knowledge of local politics (i.e., an ability to distinguish Tuareg rebels from al Qaeda, as opposed to bluntly grouping all as “terrorists”).
But not every situation is like Mali. And not all problems have military solutions, unless you are prepared to go all in.

Although the West is not responsible for the atrocities in Aleppo, we are morally responsible for giving false hope to the rebels since 2011, when we offered them rhetorical and, later, material support but did not have the will to back them with our own troops.
Act decisively. Or stay out.
I think he has something there.

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