Spot the difference

Remember this story, which appeared on the BBC in September 2016?

The US ambassador to the UN has accused Russia of “barbarism” over the bombing of the Syrian city of Aleppo. At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, Samantha Power said Russia had told the council outright lies about its conduct in Syria. She said Russia and the Syrian regime were “laying waste to what is left of an iconic Middle Eastern city”.

Samatha Power’s accusations against the Russians were hardly unique. They were in fact pretty much the norm among American commentators throughout the battle for the Syrian city of Aleppo. For instance, Max Fisher of the New York Times wrote the following denunciation of Russian ‘brutality’:

The effects of Russia’s bombing campaign in the Syrian city of Aleppo — destroying hospitals and schools, choking off basic supplies, and killing aid workers and hundreds of civilians over just days — raise a question: What could possibly motivate such brutality?

Observers attribute Russia’s bombing to recklessness, cruelty or Moscow’s desperate thrashing in what the White House has called a “quagmire.”

But many analysts take a different view: Russia and its Syrian government allies, they say, could be massacring Aleppo’s civilians as part of a calculated strategy, aimed beyond this one city.

Meanwhile, the ‘brutal’ and ‘barbaric’ methods of the Russians were contrasted with the relatively benign tactics of the American military. As Zack Beauchamp commented in Vox:

While the United States and its allies are waging a targeted air campaign against ISIS and other extremists, Russia and the Syrian government are launching an all-out assault on a single city, an assault heedless of the civilian casualties. Washington and its allies have killed innocents but work to avoid it. Russia and Syria — which are carpet-bombing densely populated civilian areas with indiscriminate weapons like barrel bombs — don’t.

Americans weren’t the only ones to take this line. Former British foreign minister Boris Johnson, for instance, remarked that Russia was becoming a ‘pariah nation’ due to its attacks on Aleppo, some of which, he claimed, were ‘unquestionably a war crime’.  And Mark Galeotti commented in Foreign Policy magazine, that:

Anyone trying to understand Russia’s military strategy in Syria would be wise to examine the heavy-handed methods Vladimir Putin used during his first war as Russia’s commander in chief, the bloody Second Chechn War. … These are very different wars, fought in different ways by different forces, but they nonetheless highlight one central aspect of Putin’s approach to fighting insurgents: the value of brutality.

Fair enough, you might say – a lot of innocent people died in Aleppo. According to Wikipedia:

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), a pro-opposition non-governmental organization, reported that the Russian bombardments killed at least 1,640 civilians in the Aleppo area: 1,178 civilians died between 30 September 2015 and 1 August 2016, while additional 462 civilians were killed from 19 September 2016 until 30 November 2016.

It’s impossible for me to validate these figures, which could be criticised for the fact that they come from a ‘pro-opposition’ organization. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s take them as reasonably accurate. Now let’s compare them with something else – the numbers killed by air and artillery strikes carried out by American forces and their coalition allies in the battle for the Syrian city of Raqqa. As I reported a year ago, when a team from the  UNHCR entered Raqqa after its liberation from the forces of the Islamic State, its members recorded that they witnessed a ‘level of destruction which exceeded anything they had ever seen before.’  Since then, analysts have been trying to calculate the human cost of this destruction, and today we have the results.  According to the BBC:

More than 1,600 civilians were killed in US-led coalition air and artillery strikes during the offensive to oust the Islamic State group from the Syrian city of Raqqa in 2017, activists say.

Amnesty International and monitoring group Airwars said they had carried out investigations at 200 strike locations … Researchers spent about two months on the ground in the city, carrying out investigations at strike locations and interviewing more than 400 witnesses and survivors. They were able to directly verify the names of 641 victims, and there were very strong multiple sources for the rest, Amnesty said.

So, there we have it. In a campaign marked by ‘war crimes’, ‘brutality’, and ‘barbarism’, the Russians killed 1,600 civilians. Meanwhile, in the campaign for Raqqa, the Americans killed … 1,600 civilians! Can you spot the difference? I can’t.


15 thoughts on “Spot the difference”

  1. If you continue making outrageous false equivalence arguments, mister, you’ll have have to spend time in a reeducation camp, I’m afraid.

    It’s been explained to you a million times already:
    “Earlier, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the situation with recognizing Crimea as part of Russia differed from acknowledging Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. According to him, what US President Donald Trump did is to “recognize the reality on the ground.” Pompeo stressed that Washington seeks to work on Middle East stability, noting that “America is a force for good in the region” and its intentions are noble.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, but the evil ISIS was using civilians as human shields in Raqqa, so noble Americans had no choice but to bomb them! Meanwhile, the freedom fighters in Aleppo totally didn’t, so all civilians were maliciously slaughtered by evil Russians and Assadists! There is your difference, professor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. This why whataboutism is a term and pointless. Forces of good kill civilans only to stop greater evil and to save them. Forces of evil kill civilians to spead more evil and out of vile nature.


      1. Exactly. This why whataboutism is a term and pointless.
        Provided you are not about whataboutisms more generally, and we might have the same thing in mind–I was close to responding too–historically the term might prove interesting. Once one takes a closer look.


      2. ok, before I am off again.
        What is the precise relation between “human shields” and “collateral damage” of the human kind.
        and or why are “precision bombs” more humanitarian then “barrel bombs”, or lets say precision bombs with minor grades or uranium, beyond the PR, that is? And admittedly I am not an expert in weaponary.


  3. The misguided moral supremacy at issue is nothing especially new as noted in this earlier piece:

    Concerning Russian action in Syria, John Brennan is referenced with a direct quote from him in a PBS NewsHour segment. Of course, he wasn’t challenged at all.

    When Nikki Haley was appointed America’s ambassador to the UN, I said that she couldn’t be any worse than Samantha Power. I take that back.

    Power has her flaws as noted in these pieces:

    Providing top quality analysis on a range of key foreign policy, historical, media and sports issues.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This information about Raqqa was available at the time – social media as well as on non western channels.

    The BBC were a part of the propaganda arm of the British govt smear campaign against Russia and Syria.

    It was all part of the information war. The words used to describe Russia and Syria are to create images of uncivilised barbaric people. While the USA are in white hats (or white helmets in this case!!! )

    As for Aleppo – pictures of how it looks now compared to Raqqa are as different as night and day almost.


  5. Patrick Armstrong acidly noted how often ‘the last hospital in Aleppo’ was bombed by the Russians and/or Syrians.

    But if we think about this objectively, 1,600 casualties deaths given the explosive power of the ordinance being dropped, the terrain being fought over, the positions the enemy were in both in Raqqa and Aleppo, and also the stakes involved, it would seem fairly clear that both cases meet the Law of Armed Conflict test of ‘proportionality.’

    However this does demonstrate why ‘whataboutism’ otherwise known as ‘those who live in glass houses’ continues to be so effective. In exaggerating or even lying about what was going on western politicians and commentators devalue concepts such as ‘atrocity’ or ‘barbarism’ and instead reaffirm the idea that these are not more or less objective concepts and just things that are thrown as invective at people who policy elites have decided, for one reason or another, they don’t like. And in doing so policy elites undermine themselves in the long term as they lose credibility with everybody but themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. thanks for your work! i had noticed the amnesty international article on this from about 5 days ago.. i am sure the msm will do their best to keep it buried, as they wouldn’t want those dear souls in the west to get an inkling of just how dishonest the war merchants and west are in their zeal to do more of the same…


  7. ^That’s a proper, civilized Caesaropapism – not utterly deplorable and backwards “merging of church and state” (c) in Russia. After all, civilized countries’ ICBM’s and munitions have liberating effect!


    1. Indeed, such a beautiful church misuse so appallingly. Wasn’t sure if I could trust you. 😉

      Stonehenge & Salisbury Catheral were the first sites I traveled to see when I moved to England.. Oh my gawd I must be a spy!

      And yes, indeed.

      There is to be a ceremony at Westminster Abbey on 3 May in celebration of 50 years of submarine nuclear weaponry. Two hundred Anglican clerics have publicly condemned the service – in their view it should not go ahead because it is at odds with church policy to “work tirelessly” for a world free of nuclear weapons.


      1. “Two hundred Anglican clerics have publicly condemned the service”

        Rhetorical questions:
        1) 200 out of how many thousands belonging to the Anglican communion?
        2) Who’s still the official head of the Anglican Church?

        And now a musical intermission


  8. Not directly related to this post, but I saw a book recently that might be of interest. It’s “Putin’s World” by Angela Stent. I took a look at the book recently, and thought it looked promising. I only looked at the jacket and part of the introduction, but what I found appealing about what I saw was the apparent lack of moralism in the book. I find that’s a downfall of a lot of literature on Russia (both the majority that’s hostile and the minority that’s friendly), that it rushes to judgment (either positive or negative) so quickly that it forgets to take the trouble to accurately describe what’s at play. Another appealing aspect of the book is that it seems to place Russia’s relations with the West in the context of its broader foreign policy more than a lot of other works. I’m not sure if the actual text lives up to the promise, but I think if you’re looking to do another book review any time soon, this might be a good book to look at.


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