With the rebels and the Syrian government both claiming the upper hand in Aleppo, the only truth on this side of the ocean is that the war is grinding up the city and its people. Ever wonder how Secretary of State Clinton feels about that?
Less than six months ago, Mrs. Clinton made the case for the United States not arming Syrian rebels about whom we know little. Speaking in Morocco, she said, “We really don’t know who it is that would be armed,” noting that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had expressed support for the rebellion. “Are we supporting al-Qaeda in Syria?” she asked, not quite rhetorically. “Hamas is now supporting the opposition. Are we supporting Hamas in Syria?”
By itself, that is a good point. Its power is only slightly diminished by the recent revelation that the CIA has been on the ground trying to figure out precisely whom we would be funding if we were funding, and the further revelation that indeed we have been funding (with non-lethal aid) even before the CIA has gotten it figured out.
Mrs. Clinton went farther in the interview, however, than just stating policy that the U.S. was not going to arm rebels. Not at all rhetorically, she encouraged the civilian residents of Damascus and Aleppo to join an uprising she knew wouldn’t have U.S. military support.
What about the people in Damascus, what about the people in Aleppo? Don’t they know that their fellow Syrian men, women, and children are being slaughtered by their government? What are they going to do about it? When are they going to start pulling the props out from under this illegitimate regime?
Well, Aleppo has joined the revolution.
It resembles nothing so much as President Bush (41) calling on the Iraqi people to rise against Saddam in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. Speaking on Voice of America Radio on 15 February 1991, he said:
There is another way for the bloodshed to stop: And that is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside and then comply with the United Nations’ resolutions and rejoin the family of peace-loving nations.
The Kurds in the north and the Shiites of the south joined a nonexistent revolution. It was brutally suppressed — in the south there were massacres, the catastrophic draining of the marshes to deny sanctuary to the Shiites and to deserting army troops, the use of poison gas in those marshes, and the forcible transfer of thousands of people. The fighting went on longer in the north, until the U.S. instituted a “no fly zone” there. Coalition forces entering Iraq in 2003 found horrific evidence in mass graves that contained tens of thousands of bodies. Raid Juhi, chief investigative judge in Saddam’s 2005 trial, said between 100,000 and 180,000 people were killed in the abortive uprising.
The president had never planned to provide them with military aid — even though we were in Kuwait across the border. He was just making a suggestion; indeed, he seemed surprised at the impact of his words.
Maybe people shouldn’t take us so seriously — maybe it’s their own fault when they get killed over a suggestion our president makes. But the fact is that what the government of the United States says, and does not say, moves proverbial mountains.
Interestingly, Saddam didn’t listen to the United States — not to Presidents Bush (41), Clinton, or Bush (43). We have no influence with Assad — calling him a “reformer” didn’t make him one, and our calls for his resignation are ignored. Entreaties to the mullahs of Iran are rejected, and our influence with the financially dependent Palestinian Authority appears to be nil. President Morsi’s early speeches and statements are worrisome despite the level of our aid. Iraq slides closer to sectarian war, and Turkey slides into repression and war with the Kurds with little apparent notice from the White House — that’s encouragement to further violence.
It was the Kurds and southern Shiites in Iraq; pro-democracy demonstrators protesting the stolen election in Iran; Egyptian liberals; demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, and Solidarity in Gdansk in another lifetime; and the Syrian people who have been responsive to what they believe the United States wants.
Perhaps, like President Bush (41), Mrs. Clinton was just making a suggestion back in February; we don’t know how much impact she had on people of Aleppo’s decision to join the uprising. But she could not be unaware of the impact of the words of the chief foreign policy representative of the president. Could she?
It is very reasonable for the United States to choose not to provide arms to Syrian rebels with whom we are barely acquainted — her concern about arming enemies of the United States is more than justified based on our Libyan experience. But if she didn’t mean to help the people of Aleppo, she shouldn’t have encouraged them to rise up and die.