The United States representative to the United Nations, Samantha Power, gave an impassioned speech last week asking Russian and Syrian representatives whether they felt “any shame at all” for their actions in Aleppo, and whether there is “no execution of a child that gets under (their) skin?” For Syrians, these statements were infuriating. Americans should be asked the same questions. You, too, have blood on your hands.
Over the last few years, you have deceived us with your empty promises. From the first day of the 2011 revolution to the most recent breakdown of a life-saving evacuation effort, the killing of Syrians has been met with consistent U.S. inaction, or worse: American acquiescence to Russian aggression. While the Bashar Assad and Russian governments are responsible for the vast majority of Syrian bloodshed, by no means should you feel entitled to lecture the world based on your supposed “moral superiority.” You have let us down again and again.
After Rwanda and then after Srebrenica, you said, “Never again.” After Gaza you said nothing at all. Today, you can no longer rest on your hollow rhetoric celebrating freedom and equality. Today, as Syrians watching you glibly condemn a catastrophe that is partly of your own making, we ask whether you feel any shame at all for your inaction.
President Barack Obama, you declared that if President Assad used chemical weapons against his enemies, he’d be crossing a “red line.” You watched him cross it. Aren’t you ashamed? Ashamed that your concern and care for the Syrian people evaporated at the first sign of difficulty and complication? Are you not embarrassed that “strategic overseas interests” trumped your willingness to take any and all steps necessary to stop the wanton deaths of hundreds of thousands?
Do you and your spokespeople at the U.N. and beyond look in the mirror and think, “We encouraged the Syrian people to rise up, and then watched impassively as they were slaughtered for it”? Do you not feel cowardly for refusing to engage and confront Russian aggression beyond shallow public condemnations?
And President-elect Donald Trump, have you no shame in your public affirmation of Russia as the United States’ strategic partner in Syria? The same Russia that has joined the Assad government in massacring the Syrian people. Are you not uncomfortable with stating publicly that the Syrian government is fighting Islamic State despite the evidence suggesting that Assad has actually facilitated the expansion and survival of the extremist group?
President Obama and President-elect Trump, your silence is deafening.
You have set a dangerous global precedent. And you should be ashamed.
Now it is our turn to lecture you. Next time you trumpet the American commitment to human rights, remember how far you have fallen. In the early days you claimed to support our protests as legitimate expressions of the desire for change. But you supported us only with words, not actions, and now activists in Aleppo are sending their final goodbyes before they’re executed, forcibly displaced, raped, tortured, or killed in an airstrike.
The fall of Aleppo is only the beginning. Russia and the Assad government have a far more ambitious end goal: complete military victory at any cost. The atrocities committed in Aleppo this week will undoubtedly be followed by similar cleansings in other areas.
In the past, I might have closed by making specific demands for U.S. action and leadership. But now I know better. All I can do is loudly proclaim that Syrians are no longer blind to the emptiness and cruelty of U.S. foreign policy.
This is your legacy, Obama, one that Trump seems happy to continue. Is there nothing that can shame you? Are there no acts of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin?
Abdulfattah Alkhaled is a manager at Kesh Malek, a Syrian advocacy group, and a board member of Shaml, a coalition of Syrian civil society organizations. This was written for the Los Angeles Times.