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Opinion: Gary’s question about Aleppo only raises more

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Presidential candidate Gary Johnson, in an interview with MSNBC, asked the question heard around America, “What is Aleppo?” I knew it was a city in a Middle Eastern country, but upon him asking the question, I did some research. That research raised more questions for me and gave me very few answers.

Aleppo is the second largest city in Syria, and it is currently besieged. The fighting in Aleppo is between regime forces in support of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, who is also backed by Iran and Russia, and the opposition/rebel fighters, backed by the United States. In the past two weeks, 327 people have died in the Aleppo province, many of them women and children. In the past five years, the death toll has risen to around 300,000 people, approximately 86,000 of those civilians.

There is bombing by both sides, and not even hospitals are spared. In 2016, seven structures under Doctors Without Borders were hit in Syria. In June, three hospitals were bombed in three hours in rebel-held territory in Aleppo.

In July, supply lines were cut off, putting 320,000 people at risk of starvation. As a result, the United States and Russia brokered a ceasefire Friday in hopes of allowing aid to come into the besieged cities like Aleppo. That ceasefire was decided by the United State and Russia alone; neither the regime nor the rebels groups were consulted. Not surprisingly, the ceasefire has already been violated by both parties.

The humanitarian crisis in Syria should make us consider the real cost of war. We as Americans need to reflect upon our interventionist policies and our mixed feelings about collateral damage. There is no easy answer to the civil war in Syria, just as there is no easy answer to war anywhere.

As I researched Aleppo, the question I found myself asking the most was “Why are we involved? The United States is extremely anti-Assad, but wouldn’t Syria be better off without a civil war, even under a dictatorship?”. Maybe yes, but also most likely no. It’s not as if Assad was the first member of his family to kill many of his own people. In 1982, then President Hafez al-Assad murdered 20,000 Syrians in the Hama massacre. Syria under the Assad family is not a free Syria (but Syria has a very long and complicated past).

The next question I asked: “Should we get more involved? Like, boots on the ground involved?”. That’s debatable. The regime may push back even harder if we were to put boots on the ground, and then our involvement would lead to more death, civilian and otherwise.

The only thing I took away from this research that I am certain about is we need to have compassion, conservatives and liberals alike. Regardless of whether we send troops, people will continue to die. If the result of our compassion is taking in refugees so a few less women and children will die, why aren’t we? I challenge anyone who is hesitant to accept refugees to watch this documentary, and to look at the children. There are undeniable risks to any move that we make. Chances are, there will be homegrown terrorism on our shores whether we accept refugees or not. One thing is certain: We, as Americans, have the resources to provide a better life and a future for those kids. We need to take advantage of it.

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