from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Carnage in Syria and President Obama’s Legacy

April 28, 2016

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

Here’s what’s going on in Syria.

Reuters reports that "Air strikes hit a hospital in a rebel-held area of Syria’s Aleppo and killed at least 27 people, including three children and the city’s last pediatrician, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday."

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These are Assad regime air strikes. Consider these comments from Debarati Guha-Sapir, Professor and Director of the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) at the University of Louvain:

 

Almost half of Syria’s ambulances have been destroyed; more than one-third of its hospitals no longer function; and the flow of pharmaceutical imports has slowed to a trickle, with none reaching rebel-held zones.

 

This breakdown is not just an unfortunate side effect of the crisis; Syrian medical facilities have come under direct, seemingly deliberate attack. Physicians for Human Rights recorded 16 attacks on hospitals last October alone in a total of 346 attacks on 246 health facilities, while Doctors without Borders has condemned so-called double-tap tactics, in which aerial bombings of high-density civilian centers are followed by strikes on the nearest hospitals, removing emergency care for the injured. Even small clinics have been bombed by state-controlled forces.

 

Or consider this account from the journalist Sharif Nashashibi:

 

The regime has repeatedly violated the "cessation of hostilities", with the opposition saying on Sunday that it is close to collapse following the renewed use of barrel bombs. Dozens of them were reported on Monday to have been dropped on civilian areas of Aleppo, only two days before peace talks began on Wednesday. One of the main aims of the "cessation of hostilities" was to allow humanitarian aid to besieged areas. However, the UN and NGOs have said the regime is blocking access, delaying convoys, removing medical equipment and forbidding evacuations, violating international law and worsening the humanitarian crisis.

 

What has  President Obama done in response to these crimes against humanity and war crimes, which have been going on for years? Nothing. Well, he did give a speech at the Holocaust Museum in Washington  in 2012, where he said

 

’Never again’ is a challenge to nations. It’s a bitter truth -- too often, the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale. And we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save.

 

And he appointed an "Atrocities Prevention Board." One has to wonder how haunted he is about the Syrian "atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save." For as his former coordinator for Syria, Fred Hof, wrote a few days ago, nothing at all has been done:

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Syria’s "complexity" is the administration’s last ditch defense for an astounding five year bottom-line: not one single Syrian protected from the merciless, unrelenting, and deliberate campaign of mass homicide and collective punishment inflicted by the Assad regime against millions of Syrians.

 

Mr. Obama’s legacy will also be complex. But this will inescapably be a central part of it. It’s worth repeating Hof’s line: "not one single Syrian protected from the merciless, unrelenting, and deliberate campaign of mass homicide and collective punishment inflicted by the Assad regime against millions of Syrians." That should haunt every top official of this administration.

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