Assad’s assault on Aleppo started yesterday, with fighting in the Firdous district reported. The Financial Times describes the mood in the city: residents are largely cowering in fear, but some still have sympathies for Assad’s rule. Even supporters seem to acknowledge that the regime is brutal, but the chaos and retribution that could follow the regime’s demise may be even worse:
Grassroots regime supporters remain in Aleppo, some driven closer to the regime by the crisis as they cling ever more desperately to its argument that it is the only guarantor of stability against an opposition made up of foreign-backed terrorists.[…]One local in the rebel-controlled Salaheddin district told how he was unhappy that the Free Syrian Army had proclaimed their takeover of the area, as he was instinctively sure what the government’s response would be.“We know this regime are killers,” he said. “They would even shell their own mothers.”
Meanwhile, the New York Times cited a top UN human rights official sounding the alarm bell on war crimes—committed by both the Assad regime and the opposition.
Saying that a “discernible pattern has emerged,” Ms. Pillay said that the army had been surrounding villages and cities, bombarding and then clearing the areas, often while summarily executing suspected fighters. Ms. Pillay also cited unconfirmed reports of opposition fighters torturing or executing prisoners.
The most curious quote, however, comes at the end of the Times article, from State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland.
But Ms. Nuland also indicated that the United States was not reconsidering its stance against military intervention, saying, “We do not think pouring more fuel onto the fire is going to save lives.” And she drew a sharp distinction between Aleppo and the Libyan city of Benghazi, where fears of a slaughter by government troops led to a NATO bombing campaign that proved decisive in toppling Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi last year.“The kind of groundswell call for external support that we’ve seen elsewhere is not there,” Ms. Nuland said.
We’re heartened that the Obama administration seems to have internalized the lesson of Libya: that unforseen negative consequences can arise from the noblest of intentions. But does the State Department mean to imply that the American calculus for or against intervention is so heavily dependent on outside opinion? Saying so out loud belies a lack of a viable Syria strategy. While there really aren’t many palatable options on the table for policymakers, it’s not a great idea to signal this fact so clearly.