Stop Syria’s suffering: An open letter to President Obama

Would things have turned out for the better had you taken a pinprick strike when the chemical weapons issue came out? Would a no-fly zone have helped?

People inspect a damaged site after airstrikes on the rebel held Tariq al-Bab neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
People inspect a damaged site after airstrikes on the rebel held Tariq al-Bab neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Dear Mr. President, Since you are in town and I’m sure you are reading The Jerusalem Post this morning, I’d like to talk to you about Syria.
Almost seven years ago, in your acceptance speech in Oslo after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize you spoke of the recognition that sometimes force may be necessary not only in self-defense or in defense of another nation against an aggressor, but, sometimes, to “prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.”
“I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds,” you said, and, you added: “Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later.”
Mr. President, that was a prescient speech! You noted the resurgence of sectarian conflicts; the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies and failed states, and the emergence of conflicts where more civilians are killed than soldiers, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed and children scarred.
Just a year later, the “Arab Spring” had begun, and by mid-2011 Syria had descended into civil war after months of brutally repressed protests. As you know, five years on, the death toll in Syria has topped 400,000.
In the last week alone hundreds of people, among them close to a hundred children, have been killed in Aleppo as the regime of President Bashar Assad, backed by Russian air strikes, launched an offensive to gain control over the rebel-held eastern half of the city following the breakdown of the short lived cease-fire your Secretary of State John Kerry brokered with Russia.
The reports from Aleppo are tragic, I’m sure you will agree. No doubt your intelligence people have given you the picture: Ceaseless Russian and regime air strikes are reaping unprecedented devastation and destruction with bunker busters, thermobaric bombs, cluster munitions, barrel bombs and phosphorous weapons. Two hospitals serving the 250,000 civilians trapped in Aleppo have been shut down by the bombings.
You’ve heard all this before, but for our readers who haven’t, a few selected descriptions of the holocaust on our doorstep.
“You cannot imagine what we see every day: Children who are coming to us as body parts. We collect the body parts and wrap them in shrouds and bury them,” the Guardian quoted a nurse working at one of the hospitals. A Syrian journalist, Bashar Abu al-Laith, described the offensive as “complete annihilation,” and The Washington Post quoted Abdulkafi Al-Hamdo, a teacher in the rebel-held quarter, as saying, “We expect extermination.”
The horrors Mr. President are in plain sight for all to see. Nobody could possibly say, “we did not know.”
“Imagine a slaughterhouse. This is worse. Even a slaughterhouse is more humane,” is what UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon said addressing the Security Council earlier this week.
Why Mr. President are you and the rest of the free world allowing the slaughter to continue with no more than lame protests? Your State Department’s reaction has been to announce “preparations to suspend US-Russia bilateral engagement on Syria... unless Russia takes immediate steps to end the assault on Aleppo and restore the cessation of hostilities.”
Your secretary of state has expressed “grave concern.”
Do you really think that will make President Putin stop. The Kremlin has dismissed your reaction as an “emotional outburst” and continues its offensive – unrelented and unabated.
I know you are haunted by what has happened in Syria, by the knowledge, as you told Vanity Fair, that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions have been displaced, and that makes you ask yourself what might you have done differently along the course of the last five, six years.
I know that you are a man of conscience, that you faced only bad choices and that you ask yourself constantly: Was there something that we hadn’t thought of? Was there some move that is beyond what was being presented to me that maybe a Churchill could have seen, or an Eisenhower might have figured out? But they were men of action, not just conscience.
And of all the bad choices out there they surely would have chosen a path and forged it.
Would things have turned out differently had you provided some more modest arms to Syrian rebels? Would things have turned out for the better had you taken a pinprick strike when the chemical weapons issue came out? Would a no-fly zone have helped? Would boots on the ground have been the right choice? And did you make the right decision to downgrade Islamic State rather than act decisively to destroy it? Only history will answer those questions, but right now, the people of Aleppo are being slaughtered and you are unable to say, like a Churchill, “Action This Day.”
You were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at the beginning of your first term in office, amid considerable controversy, as you yourself noted in Oslo, given that your accomplishments thus far were slight. The prize was given against the hopes of what you would achieve.
You are now nearing the end of your labors as president of the United States. The world is a more unstable and dangerous place than it was eight years ago, there have been little consequences against those who “violate international law” and those who “brutalize their own people,” and you have given way to those “who abide by no rules.”
Mr. President, you have not lived up to the standards you set out in your Oslo speech.
Mr. President, you have almost four months left in office: Stop Syria’s suffering!
Anxiously waiting your reply,