WaPo: Aleppo bloodbath will indelibly stain Obama’s legacy

The Washington Post’s board of editors rip into President Obama for his failed Syria policy that helped produce the horrors of Aleppo. Here is how the Post describes the situation on the ground:

The battle for Aleppo is ending in catastrophe, both for the tens of thousands of people who have been besieged there and for the future of Syria. On Wednesday, Syrian government and Iranian-led Shiite militia forces renewed attacks on the last rebel-held streets of the city, shredding a promise to allow a peaceful evacuation.

According to the United Nations, the pro-government forces have been executing civilians in the street or in their homes — including, on Monday, at least 11 women and 13 children. Thousands of men have been rounded up and gang-pressed into the Syrian army, or dispatched to an unknown but likely terrible fate. The United Nations’ term for this nightmare was apt: “A complete meltdown of humanity.”…

The regime of Bashar al-Assad and its Russian and Iranian allies. . . systematically destroyed hospitals, including pediatric facilities; decimated civilian housing with bunker-buster bombs and chlorine gas; and refused to allow food or humanitarian aid of any kind into the besieged districts of the city.

In addition to the horrors being inflicted on innocent civilians and the precedent being set for warfare in the 21st century, the fall of Aleppo means no end to the wave of refugees leaving Syria, a hugely destabilizing phenomenon. It also represents a victory for Sunni terrorist movements that, by default, constitute the most effective opposition to Assad.

The Post lays considerable blame for the Syria debacle on the Obama administration:

By refusing to intervene against the Assad regime’s atrocities, or even to enforce the “red line” he declared on the use of chemical weapons, President Obama created a vacuum that was filled by Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. As recently as October, Mr. Obama set aside options drawn up by his advisers to save Aleppo. Instead, he supported the delusional diplomacy of Secretary of State John F. Kerry, whose endless appeals to Moscow for cease-fires yielded — as Mr. Putin no doubt intended — nothing more than a humiliating display of American weakness.

On Tuesday, Mr. Obama’s U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, delivered an impassioned denunciation of the Aleppo carnage, which she said would “join the ranks of those events in world history that define modern evil, that stain our conscience decades later.” She excoriated the Assad regime, Russia and Iran but offered no acknowledgment that the stain of Aleppo extends also to her, the president and American honor. Those who will live with the long-term consequences of the Syrian catastrophe are unlikely to be so forgiving.

(Emphasis added)

The Post editorial board shows unusual restraint in not assigning some blame to Republicans. I would have been less charitable. Republicans, including conservatives, did not press Obama to take action in Syria. In fact, they resisted when Obama briefly seemed prepared to enforce his “red line.”

Opposition to having U.S. troops fight on the ground in Syria was understandable. But it’s doubtful that such fighting was necessary to prevent Aleppo.

The triumph of Assad and the resulting horrors are the product of air power. The U.S. could have controlled the air over Syria via attacks on Assad’s air force and/or the imposition of a no-fly zone. Had we done so, the civil war would have been much less gruesome and probably would have remained a stalemate susceptible to a negotiated settlement rather than the impending victory through liquidation.

When the Obama administration ruled out these options, the Russians filled the void. The rest is tragic history and a sizable portion of Obama’s legacy.

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