Everyone has an agenda. I know that. You know that.
Politicians, the media, even humble bloggers have their biases and narratives. What they know and what they think they know. What’s true and what they want to be true, even though it flies in the face of reality as it is playing out in front of our eyes.
What concerns me presently is Aleppo, the largest city and economic engine of Syria and the quaking epicenter of the country’s military and humanitarian crisis.
The Clintonian narrative on Aleppo is this:
The United States and its allies support the “moderate, democratic” rebels. Those rebels are the defenders of Aleppo, which is being annihilated by bombing campaigns led by Russia, Iran, and the Syrian regime.
The Trumpian narrative on Aleppo says:
Aleppo is already fallen because of bad decisions by the United States. The city and the humanitarian disaster there is a distraction from the real enemy, ISIS, which is being fought by Russia, Iran, and the Syrian regime.
In general, Clinton speaks far more intelligently about foreign policy, though nearly always in accordance with the prescribed narrative—which, to be fair, is often accurate and compelling.
Trump, on the other hand, deflects and distracts when it comes to details and actual plans regarding foreign policy. This is understandable given his professional background, but that does not make it acceptable.
Both of the narratives on offer, however, are wrong because they are woefully incomplete.
The Clintonian story, which is often echoed by the non-Fox mainstream media, continues to fail to make meaningful distinctions between “moderate” rebels and the radical (i.e. terrorist) groups with whom they are allied. We have known for years that by continuing to aid the rebels—with weapons technology, military aid, and intelligence—we are often donating to extremist groups. Al Nusra Front, an offshoot of al Qaeda, is among them, and is one of the rebel groups entrenched in Aleppo today.
In Trumpian history, sometimes recited by right-wing media and increasingly by his alt-right supporters, Aleppo boils down to a “disaster.” In none of the three debates did he make proposals about what can or should be done to address the situation in Aleppo. In his narrative, Aleppo is past tense. It is a too-late sideshow that can be left on the backburner while we address—or let others address—the “real issues” that are ISIS and what he calls “The Great Migration” (Syrian refugees coming into the United States).
Clinton, like so much of the administration, is wrong—or in denial because it complicates a clean narrative—about who “the rebels” are, but it is inconvenient and a genuinely difficult-if-not-impossible task to draw on-the-ground distinctions between rebels and terrorists. That distinction is hard in theory. How much more in practice.
Trump is absent in actual strategy, except to “be strong” and “win fast,” and he is wrong in his priorities. Of course, ISIS is a threat to the region and, as he says, it has exported its hatred to dozens of countries. It must be addressed. But it is already being addressed and defeated. It will not happen overnight—wars generally don’t—but ISIS, which a year ago was the size of Great Britain and held territory home to ten million people, is losing land, wealth, and manpower daily. ISIS is being defeated. The strategy—of the West, Russia, the Syrian government, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.—to destroy ISIS is working. Trump is wrong to think it’s not.
He’s also wrong to demonize the refugees of his Great Migration, a term he characterizes as “taking in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, who probably in many cases—not probably, who are definitely in many cases, ISIS-aligned.”
This is simply not true. First of all, the United States has only taken in ten thousand Syrian refugees so far, most of them women and children. For many of them, ISIS’s authoritarian caliphate was the very thing they were fleeing. Second, the United States has among the most stringent vetting policies for refugees in the world. It is a process that takes two years (note: ISIS only began to blossom in Syria in 2014, so most of these refugees were refugees before ISIS could have trained and equipped them anyway) and goes through numerous government agencies, including the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department. How much more “extreme” can our vetting become?
Lastly, Trump and his team (who are not always aligned: “[My vice presidential nominee, Mike Pence] and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree.”) are wrong to assert that Aleppo has fallen. No, it hasn’t.
And here’s where Clinton and Trump—and so much of the media—are wrong.
Across the three presidential debates it has been asserted by both candidates and by moderators Martha Raddatz and Chris Wallace that there are about 250,000 people left in Aleppo, which is being constantly bombarded by the Russians and the Syrian government.
This is an embarrassing lie and a shame on the growing national narrative on Syria.
There are about 250,000 civilians left in east Aleppo, which is held by Western-backed rebels. It’s here that nearly all American news channels focus. It’s here we get the heroic White Helmets. It’s here we hear that there are no doctors left. It’s here we are to understand, rightly, that hundreds are dying every week.
While there’s some truth in there, it’s a half-truth at best.
Because there is also western Aleppo, which the American narrative—espoused by both Clinton and Trump—has utterly neglected to the point we believe it does not exist.
Western Aleppo is held by the Syrian government. Even today, it is home to more than 1.2 million Aleppians. While considerably safer than eastern Aleppo, it is regularly attacked by US-backed rebels and by associated terrorist groups. Western Aleppo has thousands of doctors left, working day and night to do what they can in a city that is truly overrun by war. And children are dying daily in western Aleppo, but they are dying in regime-held territory at the hands of Western-backed fighters, so they are not highlighted in the same way.
The Aleppo Deception creates a world in which Aleppo—and, by extension, Syria and the whole world—is what we decide it is. Aleppo is spoken of as though it only exists where there are Western allies. This is a fallacy and an enormous disservice to the millions of noncombatants caught in the crossfire.
True, eastern Aleppo is being bombarded by Russian and Syrian firepower. But western Aleppo is under constant assault from rebels and terrorists armed and abetted by Western powers, including the United States.
The Aleppo Deception cheapens life by denying it in places aligned with our narrative “enemies.” It cheapens truth by whitewashing facts on the ground for the sake of a clean, simple storyline.
The Aleppo Deception assumes an American exceptionalism that is not only unhealthy, but is actually dangerous. Narratives, especially grand nationalistic narratives, have the power to rescue or to kill. The Aleppo Deception kills by prioritizing people in “our” territory over people in “theirs.”
There is simply no ethical or historical reason to deny the truth of Aleppo. It is all politics.
But we need the truth of Aleppo—the whole truth—if we are to be set free from the ravages of war and the brutal and willful blindness of the passing narrative.