Belmont Club

The Fall of Aleppo and the Ruin of American Foreign Policy

Reuters reports that Bashal al-Assad’s forces have made major advances behind a major Russian air offensive and are now poised to destroy the non-ISIS rebels opposing the Syrian government is rocking the foreign policy establishment. “After three days of intense fighting and aerial bombardment, regime forces, believed to include Iran-backed Shia militias, broke through to the formerly besieged regime enclaves of Nobul and Zahra.”

In so doing, they cut rebel-held eastern Aleppo off from outside help. With regime forces to the south and west and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to the east, the part held by non-Isil rebels is now surrounded.

By nightfall, rebel forces were mounting a final stand from a mile-long patch of territory north-east of Aleppo. But local media activists aid the opposition forces were on the verge of withdrawal, facing massive bombardment from Russian and regime air strikes.

The offensive prompted the United Nations to suspend the Geneva Peace talks, which are the centerpiece of the Administration’s Syria policy. “The government’s territorial breakthrough came after hundreds of bombing raids by Russian warplanes. The U.N. said it had been told hundreds of families had been uprooted following ‘an unprecedented frequency of air strikes in the past two days’. Three aid workers were among the dead.”  Some reports claimed that the Russian air force has just finished destroying the last major hospital in Aleppo. The Andan Charitable Hospital followed the Azaz National Hospital and the Baghdad Hospital  into the rubble-heap.

Apart from derailing the administration’s Syrian initiative, the return of Assad from political death behind the bombs of the Russian air force  calls into question the sincerity of president Obama’s policy in the region.  By contrast with the Russians it seems almost as if the administration were simply going through the motions of combat. The performance of the miniature, “rust bucket” Russian air force has formed an invidious baseline to what the USAF has achieved. The Independent reported:

Their army’s equipment and strategy was “outmoded”; their air force’s bombs and missiles were “more dumb than smart”; their navy was “more rust than ready”. For decades, this was Western military leaders’ view, steeped in condescension, of their Russian counterparts. What they have seen in Syria and Ukraine has come as a shock.

Russian military jets have, at times, been carrying out more sorties in a day in Syria than the US-led coalition has done in a month. The Russian navy has launched ballistic missiles from the Caspian Sea 900 miles way, and kept supply lines going to Syria. The air defences installed by the Russians in Syria and eastern Ukraine would make it extremely hazardous for the West to carry out strikes against the Assad regime or Ukrainian separatists.

Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the commander of the US army in Europe, has described Russian advances in electronic warfare in Syria and Ukraine – a field in which they were typically supposed to be backward – as “eye watering”.

“Eye-watering” too was the apparent surprise with which top American officials were taken while Putin and Assad prepared their blitz. President Obama had spent his time at an American mosque telling its worshippers ‘You’re Right Where You Belong’, while criticizing Republicans for stirring up bigotry. John Kerry, not to be theologically outdone, told a news conference that ISIS were apostates. “Daesh is in fact nothing more than a mixture of killers, of kidnappers, of criminals, of thugs, of adventurers, of smugglers and thieves,” he declared. “And they are also above all apostates, people who have hijacked a great religion and lie about its real meaning and lie about its purpose and deceive people in order to fight for their purposes.”

Putin’s moves coming at the exact same moment as these dramatic perorations reached their climax have not only made the Obama administration’s exhibitions seem ridiculous, but forcefully underscore the sheer impotence to which American foreign policy has been reduced, an impression that the State Department’s entreaties to the Kremlin to stick to the peace process did little to dispel.

As America’s foes gain in the Middle East, the confusion surrounding the administration’s goals correspondingly grows. If Aleppo falls, and its defenders and inhabitants massacred, it will prove that Obama cannot protect anyone.  A huge humanitarian disaster whose spillover Europe must inevitably endure will ensue.  There is genuine international cooperation.  Russia generates refugees and Germany absorbs them.

And as for Geneva, well what of it?

Someone has to ask: what goal does America still have in the Middle East beyond defending the tattered political image of President Obama?

The real scandal in the Hillary Clinton emails is not the technical violations of security the administration has abetted, which Andrew McCarthy convincingly details.  It is the mind-boggling incompetence manifested by  the emails themselves.  The offensive in Aleppo shows Obama has either gotten everything wrong or was dishonest to begin with.

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