Social media is overwhelmed with images and videos of terrified, fleeing Syrians who are desperately trying to escape the wrath of Assad’s murderous army as it completes the take over of Aleppo. CNN International ran several videos posted on Periscope and Facebook of people recording what they may well have believed would be their final testament to the world and their followers.
Millions expressed outrage at Assad’s regime, which seems to be murdering people in cold blood as forces go house to house in their effort to capture the rebel’s last main stronghold.
There are reports of men, women and children being shot in their beds, in the streets and their bodies lay prostrate where they fell.
Here’s the thing though: these are not new images. Assad did not just suddenly start killing his own people in cold blood this week and in Aleppo only. This has been going on for years, since the rebellion began and, let’s be honest, before the Arab Spring occurred. He has been a murderous, sociopathic thug for decades.
Only now, after a several year long hiatus, the Western public seems to notice, again. Never mind the airstrikes led by Russia that deliberately target schools and hospitals. Never mind the Assad regime’s clear record of torture, mass murder, the use of illegal biological weapons against its own people, and a war that has claimed the lives of close to 300,000 innocent Syrians.
We had the chance to intervene and save lives. We chose to do nothing.
The images you see in Aleppo are disturbing. That is why, in 2013, President Obama asked Congress to authorize the use of force against the Assad regime for the crimes he had already committed up until that point. Congress refused.
That is why former Prime Minister David Cameron asked Parliament to approve airstrikes against regime targets and allow for the British military to directly intervene where humanitarian concerns were of the utmost significance. Parliament refused in 2013 and finally acceded in 2015. Too little, too late.
Hindsight is indeed 20/20. Those of us who have been urging Western governments to get serious and intervene on behalf of the Syrian people, not just the rebels, feel like only now that it’s too late, our voices are being heard.
The West has had a difficult go at interventionism in the last two decades. No one is denying that. The battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan continue to cost the US and allies the lives of its servicemen and women, and the scars of those wars are still fresh on the minds of Americans, and indeed the world.
The public is war-weary, and skeptical of politicians telling us that intervening is in our national interest and for the good of the world order.
We know that interventionism can be messy. Even if done properly, outcomes cannot be guaranteed and the transition to peace can be long and frail.
But we have also seen what not intervening can lead to. Genocide, starvation, mass-displacement. The effective destruction of a people by their own rulers.
The Syrian tragedy is not just measured in fatalities, either. Millions of Syrians have been displaced and forced to flee their homeland to seek peace and shelter. Instead, they are treated with hostility in our nations, and fascism has risen in eastern and central Europe, extremist parties are on the rise in western Europe, and anti-Muslim populism and fear-mongering (as well as just general xenophobia) is as prominent as it was in the 1960’s in America.
Strategic partners in the Middle East have become destabilised, with Lebanon and Jordan having to accept millions of Syrians, while dealing with their own domestic issues as well.
Turkey has become unpredictable, with political upheaval, a domestic insurgency among the Kurdish population, and 2.7 million Syrians living in camps along its southern border. Turkey has the most displaced Syrians of any nation in the world.
And to think that we could have prevented this. Three years is an eternity when it comes to armed conflict. Three years ago, we could have acted to topple the Assad regime and prevent the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings. We could have avoided the refugee crisis altogether. We could have kept Russia away from Middle East politics.
We could have stopped it.
So, while you tweet about Donald Trump meeting with Kanye West today in Manhattan, don’t let your guilty conscience get in the way of the false reality you have constructed for yourself. It’s not enough to share images of the victims of genocide. One must act.
We, the collective Western world, having claimed moral superiority since the defeat of fascism in 1945 and of communism in 1991, have utterly and completely failed to live up to our own standards. We heard the please for help, and we chose to do nothing. The isolationism of the likes of Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders convinced us that what’s happening in Syria isn’t our problem.
If we really are to claim the title of the last superpower, defender of freedom and liberty, then we should act like it.
So for all of you who now are claiming moral outrage about what’s happening in Aleppo, save it.
Think on your sins.