Trump’s silence on Aleppo’s plight, Boris Johnson’s speech to Parliament

December 15, 2016


The humanitarian crisis taking place in Aleppo is rendering politicians speechless, or worse, ill-judged in their speech-making

The last reference I have to Donald Trump commenting on the bloody battle waging over Aleppo, was in the third Presidential debate. At the time his answer was seen as rambling and unconvincing. In it he managed to conflate some unpleasant truths with a few less convincing assertions:


Everyone thought he [Assad] was gone two years ago, three years ago. He aligned with Russia. He now also aligned with Iran, who we made very powerful. We gave them $150 billion back. We give them $1.7 billion in cash. I mean cash, bundles of cash as big as this stage. Now [Assad] has aligned with Russia and with Iran. They don’t want ISIS. But they have other things because we’re backing, we’re backing rebels. We don’t know who the rebels are. We’re giving them lots of money, lots of everything. We don’t know who the rebels are. And when and if, and it’s not going to happen because you have Russia and you have Iran now. But if they ever did overthrow Assad, you might end up as bad as Assad is, and he is a bad guy. But you may very well end up with worse than Assad. If she [Hillary Clinton] did nothing, we’d be in much better shape.


Which, as far as I can see is a case clumsily put, but a case. I happen to disagree about almost everything, except the widely-accepted view that Assad has been strengthened by overt support from Russia and Iran. But much of the statement is irrelevant for the present crisis. There is no direct mention of Aleppo, or of the humanitarian crisis which is developing by the hour.

On speaking out

Fast forward. Boris Johnson, our Foreign Secretary has been in the headlines, speaking more clearly about the iniquities of actions by the Saudi rulers (last week) and now of the Assad initiative backed by Iran and Russia to re-establish control over Aleppo [emergency commons debate, Tuesday 15th December, 2016].

He was sharply rebuffed by a spokesperson for the Prime Minister over his ‘undiplomatic’ remarks over Saudi Arabia. Will he also be criticised for his remarks over Allepo? Once again, his remarks stood out in contract with those of the other speakers in the debate. In general, there was cross-party acceptance of the suffering of the trapped civilian population. The language was seeing to put pressure on the Assad regime, perhaps via his new supporters from Russia and Iran.

Boris Johnson chose to use a graphic description of the vile nature of barrel-bombs.


After five months of siege and almost a year of bombardment, we are now reaching the end of the siege of Aleppo, and Assad’s forces are doing their utmost to stamp out the last embers of revolt. The dictator’s militias have carved paths of destruction through crowded streets destroying hospitals, severing water supplies and herding thousands of people from their homes

I know that time is short, but it is worth reminding the House of exactly what a barrel bomb is and why it makes such a hideous weapon. Imagine a metal drum filled with petrol and explosives, and laced with nails and jagged shards of metal. These objects—[Interruption.] People watching and listening around the world may not know what they are. These objects are loaded on board helicopters, which then hover over civilian areas. The men on the helicopters simply light the fuses of the barrels before rolling them out of the door, leaving them to fall to the ground where they shred and incinerate any human being with range. There is no guidance system or targeting. Barrel bombs have no military purpose; they cannot be dropped near a frontline for fear of striking friendly forces. Their sole purpose is to murder civilians. Scores of these awful weapons have been used against the people of eastern Aleppo by Assad every day


He went on to criticize Russia and Iran for their complicity in the conflict, and in their veto of a recent UN resolution calling for action in Aleppo.

Boris was speaking ‘truth to power’. Unfortunately, he has power to act through diplomatic channels. He may not be making his future contribution in that role any the easier.


To be continued