By DENIS BOYLES — After five years of warfare between the government of Syria and a loosely-affiliated army of jihadists and Salafists hiding behind civilians in schools, hospitals and residential districts, a Christmas tree has reappeared in a main square of Aleppo. The tree represents more than the traditional Yule sentiments; it’s also a symbol of two ironic twists: Syria’s longstanding embrace of religious tolerance and yet another humiliation of US President Barack Obama, author of an intentionally fictitious “red line” that empowered not only the Islamist-encased rebels who used a Gaza-style defense but also a media narrative that, as in Gaza, gave legitimacy to the odious strategy of hiding explosives in kindergartens and terrorists in apartment blocks.
For the most part, the prevailing assumptions of the western press have been entrenched: “How long,” contrarian columnist Peter Hitchens demands, “will it be before we also grasp that neither Russia nor Syria bombed a UN aid convoy in Aleppo?” The closest the US can come to creating a triumph of the foreign policy disaster Washington has visited on Syria is a celebration of the transportation of “refugees” to yet another rebel redoubt, a so-called “safe zone” where they will again be used to shelter the enemies of the kind of people who put up Christmas trees in public squares.
Despite the romantic swoon induced by the “Arab Spring”, a few lonely voices, such as that of Hitchens and former British ambassador to Syria Sir Peter Ford, who for years has been trying to advance the novel theory that in an imperfect world a secular despot may be preferable to a jihadist mob, are now being heard. It took until this morning, on the BBC’s “Today” programme on Radio 4, for correspondent Jeremy Bowen, cornered by Ford, to finally admit that the rebels have been systematically using the people they were ostensibly “liberating” as human shields, a war crime that had previously gone unreported.
Meanwhile, Obama’s latest foreign policy initiative at the UN—abstaining on an anti-Israel security council resolution—was, according to Reuters, ambushed by Donald Trump who apparently convinced Egypt, the sponsoring nation, to withdraw its motion. Ironically, the last time the US abstained on an anti-Israeli vote was in January 2009, when the Americans abstained on a resolution calling for Israeli to withdraw its forces from Gaza.
For years, Denis Boyles reviewed the European media for National Review. He is currently an editor of The Fortnightly Review. His most recent book is Everything Explained…, an account of the creation of the Encyclopædia Britannica‘s celebrated Eleventh edition. The opinion expressed here is his own.
Note: An Obama legacy update here.