Doctor: Aleppo hospital where I worked is in ruins

M10 hospital is now closed. Bombed out of existence. It was one of the last functioning trauma centers and a place of healing and hope in an otherwise hellish environment. I was one of the last Western physicians in Aleppo and therefore one of the last Western physicians to work in this wonderful facility.

In June, two colleagues and I traveled to Aleppo along the now closed Castello road. The devastation and privation were terrible at that time and have gotten progressively worse since early July when the siege was completed. The regime bombing of eastern Aleppo continues to grow in both frequency and intensity. The Assad regime and its Russian air support have been increasing the strength and sophistication of the ordnance.

So called “bunker buster” bombs have been used repeatedly to attack M10. Secretary of State John Kerry says Russia and the Syrian government should be investigated for war crimes. But that's not enough. Western physicians and their organizations have implored the United States to establish and defend no-fly zones as well as well as real humanitarian corridors along which supplies can be safely shipped, and patients can be transported to Turkey or Jordan for care that isn’t available in Aleppo.

In a pique of frustration, the U.S. has suspended contacts with Russia on a Syrian truce. This leaves Syrian President Bashar Assad and his regime free to continue their scorched-earth policies. It's an approach that suggests the U.S. does not have a responsibility in abating this or any other humanitarian crisis. It's an argument with a long history in U.S. policy and has largely carried the day in the decades since the Holocaust.

I believe there is a strong argument for our personal interests in this particular crisis. We have been engaged in a war with Islamism since 9/11/2001. The war has two broad fronts. The first is on the battle fields of Iraq, northern Syria and Afghanistan. The main combatants are ISIL and al-Qaeda. Despite all the bluster from Republicans, we are winning this fight decisively. ISIL is losing land and fighters.

The second front is for the “hearts and minds” of Muslims who either are directly involved in the social upheaval in the Islamic world or are watching from homes in the West. This part of the war is being waged on the internet via social media in real time, and we are losing it miserably. We haven’t demonstrated any successful tactics and strategies and, in the first presidential debate, neither candidate articulated a coherent policy. There was barely a mention of Syria, once from Hillary Clinton.

The results of our fecklessness can be seen on the streets of Paris, Calais, San Bernardino and Orlando.

Islamists use the videos of the carnage in Aleppo as evidence of either our direct involvement in the destruction via proxies such as Saudi Arabia, or our disinterest in the death of so many women and children. In addition, we are seen as weak and ineffectual in our interaction with the Russia-Iran-Assad axis. All of this is used as recruiting fodder for the internet jihadis.

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We are engaged in this war and there is no turning back. We cannot close our borders or super-vet the internet. Of course we are not the only combatant, but we remain the major Western power. For this reason alone, we must take the lead in stopping the ongoing destruction of Syria, with Aleppo as the major prize. We must be seen as strong and concerned about the plight of the besieged population. Otherwise, our inaction will continue to be an embarrassment and stand as an example of our spineless irresponsibility.

There is no question it is late in this drama, but hopefully not too late for the 300,000 Syrians still under siege. The United States should lead the way in establishing real no-fly zones, either under United Nations auspices or with the British and the French. That is a mandatory first step to the delivery of humanitarian aid. Doctors, nurses and other relief personnel are waiting to be mustered. The supplies stand undelivered at the Turkey border. All that is left is our resolve to secure the safety of the volunteers.

If the simple humanitarian argument doesn’t carry the day, then please let the realpolitik be persuasive. To quote an old rallying cry, the whole world is watching.

John Kahler is a pediatrician who practices in Chicago. He and two other volunteers from the Syrian American Medical Society worked in the now destroyed M10 hospital in June 2016.

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