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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Aleppo, Trump, Russia and Us

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Rabbi Robin Podolsky
Rabbi Robin Podolsky teaches Jewish Thought at California State University at Long Beach and serves as affiliated clergy at Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock. She strives to live and teach a Judaism that is rich with answers and productive questions for people who seek meaning, justice, and kindness in a complex world. She Rabbi Podolsky has published articles in the Journal of Jewish Ethics, the Pluralist, Response, and European Judaism.

Aleppo has become a hellpit of suffering. After several agonizing false starts, evacuation may have truly begun, and what now? What, if anything, are we Americans to do?And what have we done?
The situation has been grinding on since the Arab Spring, when all over the Middle East people began to rise up and demand democratic change. Bashar al-Assad, rather than exit with grace, or at least transform his regime, chose to hang on to power by whatever ruthless means seemed necessary to him. He bombed and gassed his people. He tortured children—he raped and tortured children to death and dumped their bodies where those who loved them would be sure to see.
Our President made a choice of his own that’s hard to argue with — the decision to keep the USA from diving into yet another bloody tangle in the Middle East. (Bush Minor’s adventure in Iraq did not turn out so well, even if our troops did depose a bloody dictator as bad as Assad.) The President has referred, privately, to the Middle East as a “sh$tshow,” an assessment that’s hard to argue with. So he kept us out of it.  Mostly. There was the often-misrepresented “red line.” The President warned Syria that it would not be allowed to use chemical weapons with impunity. He gave Congress a chance to authorize the use of power against the Assad regime once it was proved that they really had committed that crime. Congress declined. Despite Congress’ failure, the President’s willingness to use force of arms anyway actually resulted in Assad’s admission that the chemical weapons existed and in an international project which disposed of them. So we were extricated. Except…not. The conflict escalated horribly, creating a humanitarian and refugee crisis of historic proportions. Our government tried to discern who the “moderate” rebels are and supported them with arms, enough to keep them going, but not enough to turn the tide against what became the combined force of Russia, Assad, Hezbollah and Iran. And ISIS along with its allies inserted themselves into the mix, looking for an advantage and sullying the rebellion with its presence.
Now it’s all going to crap, and we are implicated. Aleppo has fallen to the Assad regime that owes its success to backing from Russia–from the regime that, it appears, sponsors our current president-elect. To make everything crystal clear, Trump has chosen, for his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil Oil Company, a billionaire who is close, personally and financially to Vladimir Putin and his cronies. (Look for sanctions against Russia, attempts to punish that country for invading its neighbor, to go away.) Very soon, the reconquest of Syria will be complete (possibly absent some conceded territory) and the reprisals will intensify. Already, reports of massacres, rapes, atrocities (including the murder of children) and disappearances are mounting.
What now? Specifically, what can be done in the month before Trump takes office (assuming that charges of Russian interference in our election don’t prevent that)?
• More refugees. As rigorous as our vetting process already is, we can bring more Syrian refugees into shelter here in America. We can facilitate their progress to other places. We can offer food and shelter and counseling and some peace and quiet.
• Safe passage. The world can demand and enforce safe passage out of regime-controlled areas for Syrians who wish to leave. Women are already killing themselves to escape the rape and other forms of torture that capture will mean to them. An international effort can get them out.
• Let’s please try not to screw the Kurds one more time.
• Here’s some clichés and tropes to ban forever: War is Hell; toughness; tough choices; tough (to clarify: the ability to withstand somebody else’s pain is not an admiral strength); “he’s no boy scout”, “the events of today were tragic, but”; tragic, tragedy (we’re talking contingent human choices here, nothing unavoidable); “atrocities on both sides”; “no easy answers”. Just stop with that shit. We are missing a lot of vital information, but that doesn’t mean we are talking about a value judgement-free zone. Mass murder is always wrong. Torture is wrong. Rape is wrong. Destroying hospitals is wrong. Therefore:
• Stop adding to the mess in Yemen. Really.  Just stop. President Obama, we respect and will miss you, but please end this blot on your legacy while you can. (Maybe find what’s left of the rational socialists from the 90s and deal with them. Looking pretty good now, aren’t they?) If we’re going to stay out of the Levantine sh$tshow, let’s really do that. We don’t need Saudi oil that bad anymore.
What we, specifically as Jews, can do: keep saying yes to refugees. To the widow, the orphan and the stranger. That’s what we’re commanded to do.

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