ALEPPO A DAY LATER: Catastrophe Avoided for Now

Channel surfing around cable news this morning, I saw tucked in amidst the incessant analyses of the campaigns, a report indicating a cease fire agreement had been reached in Munich,  aimed at starting within a week.  Since my post yesterday was grim I want to point out there is a ray of hope now regarding a cease fire in Aleppo, the delivery of humanitarian aid to thousands and a continuation of talks aimed at an eventual peace deal

A report in First Post (apparently an Indian/British news site) offers a number of details as well as words of caution about the agreement.   As John Kerry is quoted as saying:  “what we have here are words on paper — what we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground.” (1)

It remains hard to be optimistic, given Russia’s pattern of making and then breaking peace deals in Ukraine as well as the complicated nature of relations among the various stake holders in the ongoing Syrian civil war.  But as Kerry said, within a few days we should have a better sense, so why not be optimistic for now and at least enjoy this weekend.

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(1)   I have noticed lately that a number of sites won’t allow me to link to them, so cut and paste this:

http://www.firstpost.com/world/world-powers-agree-on-cessation-of-hostilities-in-syria-at-munich-talks-2622854.html

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The Siege of Aleppo: From Chronic Crisis to Catastrophe?

The presidential primary results in New Hampshire Tuesday did nothing to diminish interest in the ongoing races in both parties.  This would seem a positive sign about our democracy were it not for the fact most of us are more TV consumers intrigued by a new version of “the great race” than active citizens.  Trump and Sanders being big winners in New Hampshire, unthinkable last June, give legs to this “reality” TV series.  It should entertain us for months to come.

Oh, by the way, while the cable TV stations spend most of their time examining what has happened so far in the great race and speculating on what is to come, a catastrophe seems imminent in Syria.  The word “crisis” is so overused these days I needed to search for a more powerful word, especially as Syria has been in a state of chronic crisis for years.  When crisis is the norm it ceases to feel like a crisis, unless you are living in its hellish circumstances rather than watching it on TV as we so often are.

Here’s a rough approximation of what is going on and why it is so bad and why it could get much worse.

Since the Russians began to directly intervene in Syria in September, under the guise of joining the fight against ISIS, they have spent most of their efforts attacking the conglomeration of more moderate rebels that we have more or less backed.   They hide that fact in their propaganda accusing all rebels fighting the government of being terrorists, including the ones we tend to like.  With the help of largely state controlled media, they hide it well enough most Russians seem to believe they are primarily fighting ISIS, and it receives support because it is sold as a religious war.

Our response to Russian forays has been to avoid clashing with them in joint fly zones and to put our hopes in peace talks among various concerned countries to reach an agreement, but these talks have produced nothing, while allowing Bashar al-Assad’s Russian and Iranian backed forces to regain ground lost earlier.  Russian intervention came when it appeared Assad was losing the fight.

Recently Assad’s forces and Russia planes have launched an attack on Aleppo, a rebel stronghold in northern Syria forcing 40,000 or so refugees to flee towards Turkey, but Turkey won’t accept them.   In recent bombings in the city some 500 people have been killed and many others are dying of starvation both in Aleppo and in other areas attacked by Assad.

Because of these events talks have reconvened in Munich today in search of a cease fire, but chances don’t look good.  For one thing Russia denies recent bombings of hospitals in Aleppo, accusing us of doing so.  And while we want an immediate cease fire they talk of a cease fire beginning March 1, which would give them more time to slaughter the opposition and strengthen their bargaining position.

In short, if the talks fail (and that seems likely), the situation borders on the uncontrollable and we are caught in a position of either confronting Russia in the form of a no fly protection zone, or losing further credibility in the area.   The Turks, the Saudi’s, France and various other nations are pushing us to do more, and that “more” seems to be a no fly zone.  A pair of scholars have written a piece calling our failure to set up that no fly zone “moral bankruptcy.”

Of course, Russia has indicated it opposes that.  After all its planes are using that area to bomb “our” rebels.   The situation seems to be heading towards either a military confrontation of some sort between ourselves and Russia or a further loss of our credibility as a military power if we essentially do little or nothing.

This is the big story of today, but it only is receiving slight mention on the cable TV stations, focused as they are on the great race.

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P. S. –     If you want the latest news on Aleppo and the peace talks, google Syrian Peace Meeting In Munich Thursday or simply Aleppo, or both.  They offer somewhat different sources.