That Democratic Party candidates have failed to mention Syria or Bashar al Assad when talking foreign policy is a worrying sign that the US will continue its failed Syria policy.

It was with dark irony that American Factory, a film produced by Barack Obama, edged out two Syrian documentary films, namely For Sama and The Cave for the Oscar for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards last Sunday.

Both of these films provide poignant snapshots into the everyday lives of those surviving and helping others survive through the genocidal war that Assad and his allies are waging on that country.

Both focus on doctors working in Aleppo during the unprecedently brutal fall of that city to Assad-Iran-Russia, with the airstrikes levelling much of the civilian neighbourhoods of the once liberated city.  

Both films serve to demonstrate to the world that as removed as the world is from what is happening in Syria, the victims of this genocide are real people with real lives, hopes, dreams and, of course, all too real fears. 

The films represented an opportunity to put the human face of Syrian suffering under one of the brightest spotlights in the world.

That both films were overlooked in favour of a film produced by Obama, the president who, whether one likes it or not (and it was always difficult for criticism of Obama to penetrate the American liberalism at the best of times, never mind in the age of Trump), bears huge responsibility for the genocide in Syria, unwittingly provides another kind of snapshot.  

It provides a snapshot of a much wider political zeitgeist, one that has come to tolerate the genocide in Syria. It hardly takes much of a stretch to put this argument in perspective.

Since December 23, 2019, over 700,000 Syrians have been ethnically cleansed from Idlib, 80 percent of which are women and children.  Hundreds have been massacred and maimed in relentless airstrikes, while centres of resistance such as Maarat an Numan and Saraqeb have been reduced to ghost towns and piles of rubble.  

The logic behind this is genocidal. Assad and his allies intend to cleanse through terror the mostly Sunni Syrian populations of the country who initiated the revolution against him and who have tasted life free from this dynastic tyrant. This is the reason why Syria’s refugee count sits at around 12 million people and why the death toll is so high. It’s why extermination camps exist, wherein tens of thousands of anti-Assad Syrians have been tortured and starved to death. It’s why hospitals, schools, civilian area and civil infrastructure have been so mercilessly targeted.  

This is precisely what underlies the mass exodus occurring in Idlib. 

Obama, who had previously posed as an ally of the Syrian opposition, abandoned them in favour of focusing solely on Daesh. His successor, Trump, has continued and expanded this policy.

No hope from presidential hopefuls 

It’s in this spirit – of indifference to a genocide that far outstrips in scale even the monstrosity of the Bosnian genocide – that not a single one of the major candidates running to be the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination have mentioned Idlib.  

One can expect this from Joe Biden, a man who was a vocal proponent of US Syria policy when he was Obama’s vice president and who continues to see Syria solely through the lens of opposition to Daesh and support for allies of Assad.

For every single candidate to outline their stances on foreign policy without mentioning the current vast ethnic cleansing in Idlib ought to defy belief.  

Bernie Sanders, during the last debate, on the issue of foreign policy, even went through a list of ‘bad leaders’ – Assad’s name never made his list.

None of this means any of the candidates necessarily support Assad, though Sanders, Yang and the thankfully marginal Tulsi Gabbard all would normalise or consider normalising diplomatic relations with the genocidal tyrant.  

But almost all of them support a particular narrative that the US is committed to ‘endless war’, with the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan being somehow elided with worthy interventions like the NATO no-fly zone in support of the Libyan revolution.  

As a result of this anachronistic take on ‘humanitarian intervention’ (the finals nails in the coffin of which were definitively hammered by Messrs Bush and Blair and their lies and criminality in Iraq), the question of how the world collectively reacts to situations where millions of people face genocide can be completely swerved.  

This is the nature of the post-Obama Democratic Party.  A party that is now defined and conditioned by the politics of global appeasement in the face of the domestic monster they all wish to slay.  

Trump, by the very nature of his being, with his overt racism and his mutual support for Putin, or his proto-authoritarian criminality and behaviour domestically and his selectively isolationist agenda abroad, crudely engenders the forces that are capable of carrying out genocide, mass murder and war crimes.  

But one fears that the Democrats, with their own brands of isolationism, would also bolster it, notwithstanding their overtly more progressive anti-Trump domestic agenda.

The world remains obsessed with looking at why Russia mobilised on an unprecedented scale to support Trump, but the emphasis ought to have been on why they wanted to stop Hillary Clinton.  In contrast to the Democratic contenders of 2020, Clinton, as imperfect as she was, offered up an alternative to Obama’s appeasement policy in Syria. Clinton would’ve called Russia’s bluff in Syria, with the creation of a no-fly zone to protect civilians and a new phase of arming rebels to overthrow Assad.  

For this, she was called a ‘warmonger’, with a small number of so-called progressives even deciding that Trump was somehow the ‘anti-war candidate. 

Stopping genocide is not imperialism

Few people endorse the idea of the US as ‘the world’s policeman’, nor do they think the US, above all nations, has a moral right to determine what is good and what is not.  

But it is the world’s most powerful country.  

This is why Syrians, faced with a Baathist-Russian-Iranian onslaught, looked towards the US as an ally against these powerful state forces. And much like there is a necessary acceptance among progressives that the world’s greatest powers must unite over threats such as climate change, there must surely be a progressive demand for the world to unify over genocide.  

Progressives cannot escape from the reality that there has to be a mechanism through which the world can act to stop genocide. And though this clearly must contain a military capacity, it’s so much broader than this – no one, whether Democratic presidential hopefuls or so-called progressive European leaders, is even prepared to say they’d help ease the burden put on Turkey, which has taken in up to 4 million refugees and will be the only location for those cleansed from Idlib, should it fall.  

No one has called on the UN to stop caving to Russia by restricting aid to the starving and freezing refugees.  

Instead, Europe and the US reacts to refugees with racist intransigence and fear – this often manifests as an increase in support of far-right movements. Trump’s Muslim ban was a manifestation of, but not the benchmark for Islamophobic anti-refugee backlash. Europe’s so-called progressives, in sync with the growing anti-immigrant far-right, set a much more monstrous benchmark with the formal policy of allowing thousands of refugees to drown in the Mediterranean.

The ‘civilised’ world is failing at the basics, and, the result will be global barbarism.  

In the face of Trump and the ‘fascist international’, whether it’s China and the Uyghur Muslims, or Myanmar’s genocide of Rohingya, or Israel and Trump’s attempts to formalise apartheid in Palestine, or Modi’s increasingly fascistic attacks on Muslims, progressives must not allow themselves to become complicit in these escalations masquerading impotence behind ‘anti-war’ politics.  

The poison of genocide will not be contained to Syria – the allowance of its logics to prosper will allow such logics to spread throughout the world. 

I realise that all of this may sound utopian – like the proverbial lost cause. But to paraphrase the great Mandela, the only causes worth fighting for are so-called lost ones.  

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