December 14, 2016

TSG IntelBrief: The Fall of Aleppo and the Death of Outrage

• As of December 13, Assad regime forces and their allies had reportedly retaken nearly all of the rebel-held parts of eastern Aleppo.

• Rebel fighters in Aleppo agreed to a makeshift ceasefire allowing for the evacuation of rebels and civilians; the agreement will most likely lead to the near-emptying of another major Syrian city.

• The immeasurable plight of civilians trapped in eastern Aleppo provides yet another tragic example of the minimal impact international outrage and condemnation—without the backing of concrete action—has had on the Syrian civil war.

• As the Assad regime’s campaign to retake Aleppo comes to an end, the Syrian war remains far from over; the external threats emanating from the extremist haven Syria has become will persist for the foreseeable future.

During a December 13 emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power asked if there was anything that could shame Syria, Russia, and Iran for their brutal assault on Aleppo, which featured the indiscriminate bombing of defenseless civilians. The answer—not only for Aleppo but for many other current international crises—is no: shame and outrage as a form of international conflict resolution does not work. The ability of all parties to generate their own facts and narratives, spread instantly and ubiquitously through social media and online news outlets, insulates them from the outrage of others. The tribalization of information has not only served to divide domestic electorates, it has hollowed out already weakened international organizations such as the UN, which has served as the primary agent for international conflict resolution for decades.

The ongoing and open disdain between the U.S. and Russia at the UN is reminiscent of the heights of the Cold War, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov flatly stating his country is ‘tired’ of hearing the U.S. whine about Aleppo, and Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, claiming that children in Aleppo were ‘covered in dust to be presented as victims of bombings.’ Amid accurate reports of the very real atrocities—some of which were reported by UN monitors on the ground in Syria—were images spread through social media of killings from several years ago passed as images from today, a mixing of fact and fiction that destroys any attempt for rational comprehension of what is a brutal and complicated situation. Despite the already horrendous reality in Aleppo, those perpetuating the various narratives cannot resist fanning even greater outrage—even as social media outrage proves to be as ineffective as that expressed in the UN.

A ‘ceasefire’ is set to begin early on December 14 in Aleppo. The agreement—which is more of an evacuation deal than a true ceasefire—was arranged between Russia, Turkey, and Syrian rebel groups. The deal reportedly allows for the evacuation of rebel fighters to rebel-held territory outside of Aleppo; civilians can choose whether to evacuate to rebel or government-held territory. The deal—if successful—would leave the near-empty eastern Aleppo under full control of the Syrian regime. The fall of Aleppo at the hands of the Assad regime and its allies marks a clear milestone for the Syrian civil war, as well as for the international actors that failed to prevent or even mitigate the unprecedented humanitarian disaster the conflict has wrought. The dynamics of the war in Syria will be different after the fall of Aleppo, but the fighting will perhaps be even more intense, if on a more dispersed and insurgent level.

Syria continues to defy worst-case scenarios, with atrocities fueling further atrocities, and a level of extremist activity on a scale difficult to comprehend. On top of the internal horrors, Syria continues to provide a major sanctuary and training ground for terror groups with global aspirations. Indeed, on December 13 the U.S. announced that a December 4 airstrike in Syria killed three members of the so-called Islamic State who were involved with the November 2015 Paris terror attacks, a reminder that the threats radiating from Syria will continue for the foreseeable future.


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