As the Battle for Aleppo ends and the territory falls into the hands of the murderous Assad regime, people are turning to all sorts of explanations as who is to blame for this tragedy and the sickening human cost that occurred as a result. Predictably, front bench Tory's and the mainstream media have pointed the blame to those who prevented the bombing of Assad's forces in 2013. They accept that the killing fields of Iraq and the disintegrated state of Libya have tainted the west's decision to become involved in these conflicts. Many of them even admit that the moral case for western military intervention has become significantly weakened due to the mistakes of the past. The horror of Aleppo presents a counter argument: the cost of non-intervention. Those who opposed the intervention must bear part of them responsibility for Assad's actions in the region goes the argument. The problem with this argument though is that it is such a gross revision of history that, even as Aleppo burns, it requires a response.
Let me be clear. Assad and Putin are responsible for horrendous crimes. Social media flocks with their apologists, those who think they are so radically minded and opposed to western imperialism, that they can't help but hypocritically lecture us about how Russia's horrendous actions in Syria are justified or even moral. Earlier this week, the morning star newspaper rightly provoked disgust when they described the fall of Aleppo as a 'liberation'. When the U.S. bombards countries with bombs, such apologists would not dare to deny civilian casualties. When Russia and its allies are responsible, they ape the rhetoric of the most ardent conservative: that the dead in Aleppo are not civilians but terrorists; that civilian deaths are either the fault of the rebel militia or a necessary evil; that civilians are rejoicing at their 'liberation'. On Tuesday Syria's Ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari even went so far as to hold up a photograph of a solider helping a woman from a truck. 'This is a Syrian solider' he proclaimed 'She is a woman fleeing eastern Aleppo'. In the age of the Internet such lies are unwise. It was quickly discovered that this was, in fact, a woman in Fallujah, in Iraq, being helped by state militia.
Indeed, Fallujah itself should serve as a stark reminder of the moral bankruptcy of those who condemn the war crimes of the U.S. and UK but support those of Russia and Syria. They rightfully denounced U.S. Forces who assaulted Fallujah in 2004, using white phosphorous as they did so, a substance that can burn down to the bone. In spite of this, they shake their heads and cover their ears when confronted about the horrors of the Russian assault on Aleppo. The UN has received credible evidence of up to 82 Aleppo citizens being shot dead where they stood. Amnesty International have reported cases of civilians - including children - being massacred in cold blood, and accused Russia of showing a 'callous disregard for international humanitarian law'. In addition to this, thousands of civilians are said to be crammed into an area of no more than two square kilometres and Lina Shami, an activist in Aleppo , reports there are 'no safe areas' and that civilians are 'threatened with field executions or are dying under bombing'. All the while, Russian bombing has been indiscriminate, destroying local infustructure. This is not to say we should never criticise the rebels. What began as a democratic struggle in Syria more than five years ago has been sabotaged by Islamist extremists such as Islamic State, which came in from post invasion Iraq. However, Aleppo had a democratically elected council and Independent civil service, now lost.
Are those who opposed military intervention against Assad in 2013, before the west turned its firepower on his Islamist extremist opponents to blame? Here is what the then Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons in 2013 in the debate before the proposed intervention ‘It is not about taking sides in the Syrian conflict, it is not about invading, it is not about regime change and it is not even about working more closely with the opposition: It is about the large scale use of chemical weapons and our response to a war crime’. Similarly, US president Barack Obama, portrayed the case for intervention as being solely about degrading Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons. Nothing about the specific areas of Syria, nothing about the rebels. It was specifically sold as a limited operation focused entirely on chemical weapons. Yes, there was the obvious fear that that this would mean creeping direct military involvement, and there is no precedent of western military involvement in the Arab world ending in anything other than disaster. It was, nonetheless, not what was debated.
There are however concrete actions that the west could be undertaking now. The case for British humanitarian aid drops in Aleppo and elsewhere is overwhelming. These would show support for the people who are besieged who Assad and his Russian backers are trying to starve out. A UN monitored evacuation plan needs to be put in place. Syria is a reminder of the need for consistency. Those of us who passionately opposed the disastrous western wars in Libya and Iraq are not apologists for Putin or Assad. Similarly, those who denounce the opponents of western military intervention should have far more humility about Iraq and Libya: The hundreds of thousands dead, the sectarian conflict, the millions displaced and traumatised, the extremist groups flourishing in the chaos. They should speak out against the wests alliance with a head chopping dictatorship such as Saudi Arabia, which exports extremism – including to Syria – and which is butchering Yemini civilians with British made bombs.
If you oppose war crimes, if you oppose the murder of innocent civilians then you should speak out about whoever is responsible. There is no contradiction in opposing the crimes of western or Russian foreign policy, or in denouncing both the bombs of Syria and of Saudi Arabia. Call it consistency, or perhaps a better term to use is morality.