The Broken Record Club

If inaction indicates thought and feeling, the hell that is eastern Aleppo signifies nothing at all in the mind or heart of he who occupies—for 50 more days—the Oval Office. As civilian neighborhoods targeted mercilessly and criminally by the air forces of the Assad regime and Russia become the “one giant graveyard” described by the United Nations humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien, President Obama remains operationally inert. Yet his Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, has forcefully and finally put a spike into a particularly corrosive multi-year talking point relentlessly employed by the administration and European partners in a hollowed-out West: “We are all,” said Ambassador Power, “in the ‘broken record’ club.”

What she was referring to specifically was the shamefully self-serving and inadvertently destructive mantra about there being “no military solution to this brutal conflict and that the only way out is a political solution.” How many times have we heard this from the lips of the politically prominent and their flacks? Yet according to Power, “this is pabulum. The regime and Russia believe the opposite… They believe in a military solution. The choice they are giving [Syrian] civilians is explicit… leave or be annihilated.”

The “no military solution” mantra is actually worse than pabulum. It is pure poison. When heard by the likes of Presidents Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin—to say nothing of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei—it is not processed as an academic finding or an analytical conclusion. They hear it as a starting whistle for murder and mayhem. They see it as a permission slip to do as they please, secure in the knowledge that what passes for the West these days—the empty-suited “Never Again” rhetoricians and strategic communicators of the 21st century—will do absolutely nothing to protect the innocent or punish their assailants. What they hear when the mantra is chanted is precisely this: “We will do nothing whatsoever of a military nature—no matter how modest—to protect Syrian civilians from those practicing mass homicide. Please show mercy. And please take into account our considered view that a military solution is unachievable.”

For literally years this writer and others have implored privately and called publicly for this mantra to end. If it were simply a device for Western politicians to avoid hard and inconvenient facts by smoothing things over with an empty slogan it would have been of no importance. In fact, it has amounted to unintended but powerful incitement.

Yes, unintended. Still, the people chanting it have been far from clueless about who is listening and how it could be interpreted. But they have needed an excuse for looking the other way while unpleasantness unfolded. And in the end the price for the strong covering their tracks and rationalizing their absence is always paid by the victimized weak, and payment is still being exacted. Assad regime pamphlets raining down on Aleppo tell (according to The New York Times) the story with cynical accuracy: “If you don’t leave these areas quickly you will be annihilated. Save yourselves. You know that everyone has left you alone to face your doom and have offered you no help.”

Nothing good politically can happen in Syria unless and until civilians come off the Russian-Iranian-Assad regime bullseye. For those unmoved by the carnage, perhaps the recruiting cornucopia being lavished on Islamist extremists by the spectacle of civilian slaughter in eastern Aleppo will be interesting.

Indeed, those who see merit in visibly aligning the United States with the Assad regime, Russia, and Iran in Syria might consider the oxygen being pumped into the lungs of Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) by what is now being played out in eastern Aleppo for the whole universe of Islam to witness. Does anyone still doubt the value of ISIS to Assad as a useful foil? Is anyone still pretending, as Putin targets hospitals precisely while Assad drops barrel bombs indiscriminately, that these worthies are fighting ISIS? Can the phony caliph and his successors-in-waiting have a more powerful recruiting tool than that forged with an alloy of Russian-Iranian-Assad regime mass murder and Western inaction/indifference? Does it get any better than that?

In the 50 days remaining to it perhaps the Obama administration will find and implement ways—far short of invading and occupying Syria—to complicate and end the free ride for mass murder now enjoyed by the Assad regime and its foreign enablers. Then again, perhaps not. Perhaps the record of having protected not a single Syrian inside Syria will be preserved right through noon, January 20, 2017.

At the very least, however, an alibi whose unintended consequence has been to encourage bad actors to do their total worst to defenseless people should now be retired permanently. Samantha Power, recoiling with horror from the hell that is eastern Aleppo, knows her audience. After all, leaving civilians defenseless is one thing. But being labeled a member of a “broken record club?” That’s to be avoided. Let us see if a dying administration can at least be shamed into changing its tune.

Frederic C. Hof is director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

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Image: Photo: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power addresses the United Nation Security Council a during a high level meeting on Syria, at the United Nations in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 25, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly