There is no doubt that the scale of the atrocities being committed in Aleppo are well understood internationally. We got used to the news coverage of the days and nights of misery, the terrible scenes of carnage and of blasted hospitals and houses. But why don't we see more public outrage? By Martin Griffiths
I was a student in the 60's and 70's. One of my first 'political' acts was to join the massive demonstration in Grosvenor Square in London in 1968 against the Vietnam War. I can still vividly recall the different parts of that day: which flag to march under (the anarchists’ black flags were always the most glamorous); the panic as we surged against the US Marines surrounding the US Embassy; the size of the police horses hemming us in; and the long journey home arguing about how many people actually attended and how many the conservative press would reduce it to.
I was thinking about those experiences recently because of the events unfolding in Aleppo.
The assault upon eastern Aleppo by the Syrian Government and its allies has been labelled a war crime. And not just by activists but also by sober diplomats in the UN Security Council. This appalling assault takes place in the context of traded accusations about who is to blame between the United States and Russia. The recent Russian statement that they remain open to a 48h ceasefire is an egregious abuse of diplomacy. It is a disgraceful cover for the bombings of civilians in Aleppo.
No public outrage – no action?
There is no doubt that the scale of the atrocities being committed in Aleppo are well understood internationally. News coverage of the days and nights of misery, the terrible scenes of carnage and of blasted hospitals and houses, all this is comprehensive. We all are on notice. And yet, despite the horror we see nobody on the streets of Europe, in Arab states or in North America to urge their Governments to 'do something'. This absence of popular outrage is a miserable comment upon us outside Syria.
After all, it is not as if our Governments have much in hand to defend themselves against the charge of inaction. The UK Foreign Secretary recently admitted that our strategies on Syria have failed - but he did not bother to suggest a new approach. President Obama barely mentioned Syria in his legacy address to the United Nations last week and then simply repeats his mantra that nothing can be done absent significant troop deployment.
Western governments are under very little popular pressure to go beyond statements to actions. Two years ago I was in the Foreign Ministry of one western country and was told that its government was under no pressure to succeed in Syria 'unless there would be a cold winter for the displaced'. Well, my interlocutor needn't have worried even about the possible effect of a cold winter. The horrors of Aleppo have failed to produce the popular rage we might have hoped for.
When discussing the startling absence of outrage on the streets about Syria, the arguments always given are: that there are no 'good guys'; and that there is nothing to be done. But Aleppo utterly disposes of the first argument; and of course there are things to be done short of an all-out assault by western troops. People as sage and experienced as Hilary Clinton have argued in favour of a “no fly zone”; and I am absolutely sure that smart sanctions can make the perpetrators sit up and notice. Another possible action could be to create a safe zone for refugees in a buffer zone along the Turkish border. Of course such actions may not resolve the Syrian Conflict, but they can show the children of Aleppo that we care.