Without Action, Obama Will Leave Behind a 'Humanitarian Abomination' in Syria

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In this April 21, 2014 authenticated file photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, shows a Syrian man holding a girl as he stands on rubble in Aleppo, Syria.
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Aleppo was once Syria's largest city — it even outgrew the capital of Damascus prior to the uprising and civil war against President Bashar al-Assad that began in 2011. It's also among the oldest cities in the world, located at what was once one end of the Silk Road, and it was a capital of trade and culture. It is considered by UNESCO to be a World Heritage Centre.

But now much of that is lost. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in recent days amidst regime shelling in the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo. At an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting called on Wednesday, Stephen O'Brien, the U.N.'s humanitarian affairs chief, warned that the Syrian city risks becoming "one giant graveyard."

Here to discuss the crisis is Ambassador Frederic Hof, the former special advisor for transition in Syria at the U.S. State Department. He's currently a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Interview Highlights

On his recent statement that he “got Syria all wrong” while serving in the U.S. State Department:

“What I was reflecting on more than anything else was really my failure to convert many, many decades worth of experience on Syria into something resembling an effective U.S. policy … I ultimately left because I came to the reluctant conclusion that there was not much interest on the part of the White House in implementing President Obama's August 2011 words about Bashar al-Assad stepping aside.”

On the horrifying realities of life in Aleppo today:

“The Syrian regime is now dropping leaflets that say, ‘If you don't leave these areas quickly, you will be annihilated. Save yourselves — you know that everyone has left you alone to face your doom and have offered you no help.’ These, along with barrel bombs and other kinds of munitions, are raining down on the civilians of eastern Aleppo, who are living an existence right now that is, I think, virtually indistinguishable from hell.”

On what President Obama needs to do for Syria before leaving office:

“There are 50 days left to this administration, and in my view it is not too late to offer some degree of protection to Syrian civilians. The consequences of permitting the Assad regime and their Russian allies an absolutely free ride to mass homicide, the consequences are a humanitarian abomination unlike any other in this century … I think the president needs to consult very closely with his secretary of defense and say, in effect, ‘Look, Mr. Secretary, what's happening to the people of Aleppo is unacceptable, it is contrary to the interests of the U.S. and its allies. I want some options. I am not interested in invading the place. I am not interested in occupying the place. But I am interested in seeing those who conducted mass homicide beginning to pay a price for their activities.’”