Lost Lessons from a Toddler’s Death

The world’s conscience was touched by the photo of a toddler who drowned while fleeing the war in Syria — and Europe’s cohesion is threatened by the growing flood of Syrian refugees. But Western leaders won’t let go of their “regime change” fixation which is making matters worse, writes Rick Sterling.

By Rick Sterling

Around 3:30 a.m. on Sept. 2, toddler Aylan Kurdi, his brother, mother and nine others drowned trying to reach a Greek island from Bodrum, Turkey. Around 6 a.m., the staff photographer from Dogan News Agency came upon Aylan’s body on the beach and took the famous photograph of the little boy lying face down on a beach.

In a few hours it was published online and “went viral” on Turkish then English language social media. Washington Post Beirut chief Liz Sly posted the photo with comment that Aylan’s death is “emblematic of world’s failure in Syria.” Minutes later, Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch (HRW) posted the photo with comment that it’s an “indictment of collective failure.”

Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

Media worldwide began featuring video and stories showing refugees traveling by land in Europe. The crisis that burst into view on Sept. 2 has been building for years. But can the raised consciousness address the root cause of the crisis?

The media and numerous organizations have shone a bright light on the refugee crisis. North European countries with low birth rates and aging populations are accepting more refugees. Germany will reportedly accept 800,000 over the next year. Many other countries including the U.S. are promising to accept more refugees from Syria. This is welcome news. However it’s not a solution because:

–Syrian refugees accepted in Europe and other Western nations are a small part of the total need. There are 4 million Syrian refugees living in bordering countries and another 7 million to 8 million displaced Syrians living in government controlled areas within Syria.

–Permitting more Syrians to emigrate addresses a symptom but not the root cause. Most Syrians do not want to emigrate to Europe or elsewhere. A Syrian boy trying to reach Europe said: “Stop the war in Syria then we won’t want to go to Europe.”

Most Syrians just want the war in their country to end. Two days after his children and wife drowned, on his way back to his hometown of Kobane Syria, the father of Aylan Kurdi said simply, “All I want is peace in Syria.” But the forces driving the war are not changing their approach.

Hostile Governments Demand “Regime Change”

Since Aylan’s death, the countries waging war on Syria through proxy armies continue to demand change in Syria’s government and/or direct intervention through the sweet-sounding name “secure zone” (which would mean in reality a military invasion by the U.S. and/or other countries to seize and control Syrian territory from which rebel forces could strike deeper into Syria).

–On Sept. 4, Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu said “I have been trying … to persuade world leaders for the need of the establishment of a secure zone inside Syria. … There are developments just like the ones occurred in Srebrenica if secure zones are not established.” His comparison to Srebrenica hints at the beginning of potential NATO bombing and is ironic since Srebrenica had been declared a “safe zone” years before the city became a symbol of death and war.

–On Sept. 9, UK Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed the UK goals for Syria: “Assad has to go, ISIL (also known as the Islamic State, ISIS or Daesh) has to go and some of that will require not just spending money, not just aid, not just diplomacy, but it will on occasion require hard military force.”

–On Sept. 14, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition against ISIL, General John Allen said to the BBC: “We have envisaged from the beginning that this was going to be a long term struggle. … It’s not just about dealing with Daesh. It’s about dealing with the conditions that created them. Bashar al-Assad has got to go. He is both a point and representation of what has caused so much instability in the region.”

General Allen talks easily about “long term struggle” while Syrians have their country attacked by foreign-funded mercenaries and fanatics. The total population of Syria is less than 10 percent the population of the U.S. yet more Syrian soldiers have died defending their country than all the U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam. What would General Allen think if the U.S. was being invaded by tens of thousands of heavily armed and financed terrorists streaming across the Canadian and Mexican borders?

There are many “non-governmental organizations” (NGOs) working on Syria. The “White Helmets” is such an organization, created by the U.S. and UK with training in Turkey. They claim to be “neutral” but are not. They posted an illustration of Aylan Kurdi linking to an article calling for an “aerial bombardment free zone” in southern Syria. They effectively used Aylan’s death to promote a U.S.- or NATO-enforced No Fly Zone (which in real terms would require U.S./NATO war planes to destroy the Syrian air force and anti-aircraft sites).

On Sept. 3, Ken Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, another NGO that has promoted “regime change” in Syria, wrote an editorial suggesting “the biggest thing Europe could do to slow the refugee flow: stop Assad’s barrel bombing civilians.”

(The phrase “barrel bombs” has become a favorite talking point against the Assad regime, although it is never made clear why these makeshift weapons are worse than the far more lethal bombs that the U.S. and its allies have dropped on Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, etc., etc., killing many more thousands of civilians than have died from “barrel bombs.”)

“Barrel bombs” are just home-made bombs of less cost and power, especially compared with U.S.-manufactured bombs supplied to Saudi Arabia and Israel (which have included cluster munitions notorious for indiscriminate killing). “Barrel bombs” fall to earth by gravity so people on the ground can avoid them more easily than guided bombs. People on the ground also can monitor overhead aircraft and find shelter if there is risk of a falling “barrel bomb,” whereas the self-propelled “smart bombs” can strike without any warning blowing apart not only the target but innocent bystanders.

Roth also ignored the support of proxy armies by the U.S. and its allies, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia; he also ignored or trivialized the sectarian and fanatic ideology of the armed opposition.

According to Roth’s analysis, the core problem is Assad government attacks on civilians. In reality, however, there are few civilians in the areas controlled by the violent opposition. In the recent Syrian government attack on the violent opposition in Douma, for example, it is claimed the attack was on civilians in a vegetable market place. As shown in this investigation, the fatalities were almost all young fighting age males, a curious demographic for a vegetable market.

The characterization of the Syria conflict by western NGOs and neocons is simple: the problem is the evil Assad. Although it is true the Syrian government needs reform, laying blame for the Syrian war at its feet is simplistic and inaccurate. By demonizing the Syrian government, Human Rights Watch is undermining the chance for compromise and negotiation. Shouldn’t an organization truly committed to human rights be working for a Syrian resolution of the conflict rather than promoting more foreign intervention and prolonging the war?

Tense Situation in Turkey

The death of Aylan Kurdi highlighted the desperate situation of refugees in Turkey. Many believe Turkey has recently been “looking the other way” as refugees take the risky departure trip. The Turkish government may be trying to get rid of the refugees and pressure Europe to commit more resources to the war against Syria.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), closely allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, lost its parliamentary majority in the June election. Unwilling to form a coalition government, the party has forced a second election to take place Nov. 1. The stakes and tensions inside Turkey are high and rising.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to be going for broke and provoking tensions, nationalism and conflict with the opposition. On July 20 in the Turkish town of Suruc, across the border from Kobane, Syria, 32 Turkish Kurdish youth were killed in a bombing. The Kurdish Workers Party PKK claims that Turkish intelligence was behind the bombing, a credible accusation since there is strong evidence of Turkish intelligence support for Nusra, ISIS and other terror groups operating in Syria.

In addition, Turkish intelligence is suspected of being behind the death of American Lebanese journalist Serena Shim, also in Suruc. Shim had exposed Turkey’s pivotal role in the war on Syria. The bombing that killed 32, coupled with Turkish air attacks against PKK in northern Iraq, has dramatically ended the Turkish “peace process.”

In recent weeks, the AKP government has been threatening media. Gangs have attacked offices of the Progressive Peoples Party and the offices of Hurriyet media. This week a prosecutor charged Dogan news agency (Hurriyet Daily) with “terror propaganda,”

Bloodshed and Attacks in Syria Continue

Meanwhile, the war inside Syria grinds on. In the past two weeks:

–Car bombs have gone off in Latakia

–The “Army of Conquest” (Nusra/Al Queda, Arar al Sham, Chinese Uighur, etc.) overran the Abu Duhour Air Base and killed about 100 Syrian soldiers.

–The Syrian Army beat back a large ISIS attack on the important air base in Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria.

Living conditions inside Syria are difficult in many areas, with rationing of electricity and running water. Some Syrians have grown tired of waiting for peace and decided to flee for a chance at security and a better life. Others bravely or stoically continue to make the best of the difficult situation.

The BBC war reporter Jeremy Bowen recently expressed high respect for the Syrian Army. “I have seen quite a lot of armies in the field over the years,” Bowen said. “This army has the will to fight on; they are a cohesive unit; these positions are well managed, well run … The soldiers are disciplined and have a good spirit. They do not look like a beaten army. I think those people who are predicting the fall of the Assad regime are again guilty of wishful thinking.”

The war in Syria is intense and bloody. The death toll is huge. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which supports the opposition, recently produced a graph showing casualties over the past year and half. As can been seen, the largest number of fatalities are foreign fighters. So, why is this called a “civil war”?


Many people are shocked at the images of Aylan Kurdi or thousands of refugees struggling to reach safety somewhere. Some say: “We have to do something!” The reality is that the U.S. and its allies have been “doing something” in Syria since 2011. The U.S. and NATO countries plus wealthy Gulf states and others have been funding, training, providing weapons and salaries for tens of thousands of mercenaries and fanatics to attack Syria. This is a clear violation of customary international law and the UN Charter.

A solution to the Syrian refugee crisis is possible. It would involve outside powers giving up their demand for “regime change” and stopping their support, training and funding of violent opposition groups. There could be an internationally enforced agreement with guarantees for the right to peacefully protest and elections. What is needed is to stop the violence and allow for the start of reconciliation and rebuilding without preconditions.

Is that possible? Are the U.S., Gulf monarchies and NATO so stubbornly committed to their regime change agenda for Syria that they will inflict hundreds of thousands more deaths and further destruction on the cradle of civilization?

Meanwhile, the tragedy continues. Twenty-two refugees drowned this week trying to reach Greece from Turkey.

What has changed since little Aylan drowned? Many more people are aware of a refugee problem. Some countries are taking in more refugees. But the root cause has not been addressed. The war of aggression against Syria continues.

Rick Sterling is a freelance researcher/writer and founding member of Syria Solidarity Movement.

19 comments for “Lost Lessons from a Toddler’s Death

  1. September 21, 2015 at 04:40

    I think we can all agree that the leader of the world’s most powerful superpower could probably do turn this around if he wanted to. Or is he a neocon?

  2. Joe L.
    September 18, 2015 at 16:06

    Speaking of the Syrian toddler, which was tragic, it was pretty disgusting to see what Charlie Hebdo did as a cover. I wonder how many of our celebrities would say “Je suis Charlie” now? One of them translates something to the effect of, “So close… Promo: 2 kids meals for the price of one!” and the other is something to the effect of, “Proof that Europe is Christian. Christ walks on water. Muslim children sink.” What an awful publication that is.


    • Roger
      September 19, 2015 at 06:05

      Entirely agree with you. Some people try to defend these drawings as supposedly ironic against Europe, but that’s too thin to excuse such utterly disgusting stuff. Just a hate-filled wish to make money by selling shock I suppose. Horrible and shameful.

  3. September 18, 2015 at 10:22

    US citizens would never have killed over a million innocent people in the middle east if they were required to pay for it with out of pocket taxes instead of a credit card.

    Deficit spending fuels murder and war by European and US corporations making big money.

    All economists preach that deficit spending is a good thing that stimulates the economy and creates green jobs for a wonderful full employment future. The actual fact is that deficit spending funds cowardly generals and cia spies out to destroy democracy everywhere, including the US and Europe.

  4. Skip Edwards
    September 18, 2015 at 02:07

    “General Allen talks easily about “long term struggle” while Syrians have their country attacked by foreign-funded mercenaries and fanatics. The total population of Syria is less than 10 percent the population of the U.S. yet more Syrian soldiers have died defending their country than all the U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam. What would General Allen think if the U.S. was being invaded by tens of thousands of heavily armed and financed terrorists streaming across the Canadian and Mexican borders?”

    This is the big question from above. Anyone with any sense of morality and even an infinitesimal sense of humanity would know the answer. No American would accept this. When will we elect leaders who will finally figure out that most of the world is getting tired of US agression?

  5. F. G. Sanford
    September 17, 2015 at 19:55

    You’ve kinda gotta go back a few years to understand all this. The establishment of the “Team-B” project under H.W. Bush and Richard Pipes in 1976 is a good place to start. Ending Vietnam took the wind out of the MIC’s sails, and the “peace dividend” threatened to derail the gravy train. Everybody was looking for a sustainable new low octane war to create a plausible threat…but not too dangerous. Zbiggy Brzezinsky cooked up a scam to sucker the Soviets into Afghanistan – and Pipes came up with a sellable geopolitical hoax. The cover story was that the Soviet oil fields were “running dry”, and that the real Soviet objective was the Arabian Peninsula. Hardly the innocent goody two-shoes, Carter invoked the “Carter Doctrine”. Straight through every administration since, there has been a steady progression of limited conflict, subversion and regime change. The plan to topple Saddam began in the Clinton administration. Madeleine Albright insisted, “He’s qualitatively different from other dictators”, invoking the WMD ruse. This despite repeated assessments that he had none. Gaddafy gave up his WMD’s, but still got the shaft. Then came the peripheral destabilizations which culminated in the present Syrian mess. The hallmarks of a proxy army driven by Western interests are impossible to deny. Assad gave up his WMD’s, but that hasn’t purchased him any good will either. Turkey forces refugees to take the sea route thus vastly increasing the likelihood there will be heart-wrenching “photo ops”. It’s time to get it through your heads – Wesley Clark wasn’t kidding. “Assad must go”. The deep-state Neocons can no longer muster a believable cover story or a moral imperative, but they’re “Stickin’ to the plan”. Meanwhile, everybody’s wondering, “What’s the plan?” For God’s sake, folks, this ain’t brain surgery. Just go down Wesley’s list and tick off the countries. But keep in mind…Russia has a copy of the list. So does China.

    • Abe
      September 17, 2015 at 21:00

      Wesley Clark in 2007

      “If you were Iran, you’d probably believe that you were mostly already at war with the United States anyway, since we’ve asserted that their government needs regime change, and we’ve asked congress to appropriate $75 million to do it, and we are supporting terrorist groups, apparently, who are infiltrating and blowing up things inside Iraq — Iran. And if we’re not doing it, let’s put it this way: we’re probably cognizant of it and encouraging it. So it’s not surprising that we’re moving to a point of confrontation and crisis with Iran.”

      The weasely General, notorious for having almost started WWIII, insisted that “you shouldn’t use force, except as a last, last, last resort”.

      He should know.

      “There is a military option,” Clark continued, “but it’s a bad one.”

      Today that bad option is called ISIS.

      • Joe Tedesky
        September 17, 2015 at 23:00

        I was happy the author in this article call the ISIS people mercenaries.

      • Mortimer
        September 18, 2015 at 15:35

        Peace in Syria? It’s Putin’s fault: Escobar

        SEPTEMBER 18, 2015

        All one needs to know about the intellectual caliber of the Obama administration is that it is still pondering whether to persist in “ignoring” Russian President Vladimir Putin, or invest in a real partnership to solve the Syrian geopolitical/humanitarian drama. After all, when in doubt between diplomacy or chaos, the Beltway weapon of choice still veers towards the simplistic group think uniting neocons and neoliberalcons: regime change.


    • Bob Van Nly
      September 18, 2015 at 08:00

      Thanks F.G.Sanford, between you and Robert Parry I can usually sift through this stuff.

      I think of Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger as sort of rival mad scientists with psychological issues, matched against each other with absurd theories, None of which would amount to much if they were like our new gaming culture. The problem is that they have sought out power for themselves, and are operating at Our expense and with our lives. These world management theories are absurd in their arrogance, and the innocent always pay the price of their plotting.

  6. Sir Real Politik
    September 17, 2015 at 17:03

    I am sure that there are many moderate, sensible, democratic, civilized people in the Middle East, but for the past few decades they seem a small and ineffective, insignificant minority; and they get no support from the u.s. The u.s. is beginning to look the same, what with its right-wing, corporate, christian taliban on the ascent. Mind you, that is the fault of lazy, narcissistic nincompoops who were too busy navel-gazing, iphone-gazing, and tattoo-gazing to vote. As for the Middle East, it would have been best for the rest of the world to have left the despots Saddam Hussein, Ghaddafi, Mubarak, Assad, etc, in control as a bulwark against mad islamists.

  7. Dick Chicanery
    September 17, 2015 at 16:36

    All the trouble and chaos and death and destruction and displaced peoples in the Middle East, it is ALL the fault of the w bush administration; and so many of their triangulating Democratic abettors. The mad islamists running wild in Libya, Iraq, Syria, and a bit of Afghanistan (I say “a bit” because the place was already a third-world, caveman land) is all the fault of illegal u.s. intervention. If part of their plan was to leave us no choice now as to whether or not we must do something, consider the corporate fascists successful: I am all for now, but was not in 2003, obliterating whatever is the latest islamist threat. I am all for torture for isis…and anyone who makes a mess in a public lavatory.

  8. Abe
    September 17, 2015 at 15:47

    The Syrian war can divided into two parts: The pre-Incirlik period and the post-Incirlik period. The pre-Incirlik period is roughly the four year stretch during which US-backed Islamic militias and al Qaida-linked groups fought the Syrian army with the intention of removing President Bashar al Assad from power. This first phase of the war ended in a draw.

    The post-Incirlik period looks like it could produce an entirely different outcome due to the fact that the US will be able to deploy its drones and warplanes from a Turkish airbase (Incirlik) that’s just 15 minutes flying-time from Syria. That will boost the number of sorties the USAF can able to carry out while increasing the effectiveness of its jihadi forces on the ground which will conduct their operations under the protection of US air cover. This will greatly improve their chances for success.

    The New York Times calls the Incirlik deal a “game-changer” which is an understatement. By allowing US F-16s to patrol the skies over Syria, Washington will impose a de facto no-fly zone over the country severely limiting Assad’s ability to battle the US-backed militias that have seized large swaths of the countryside and are now descending on Damascus. And while the war cannot be won by airpower alone, this new tactical reality tilts the playing field in favor the jihadis. In other words, the Incirlik agreement changes everything.

    The Obama administration now believes that regime change is within its reach. Yes, they know it will require some back-up from US Special Forces and Turkish combat troops, but it’s all doable. This is why Obama has shrugged off Russia’s plan for a transitional government or for forming a coalition to defeat ISIS. The US doesn’t have to compromise on these matters because, after all, it has a strategically-located airbase from which it can protect its proxy-army, bomb cross-border targets, and control the skies over Syria. All Obama needs to do is intensify the war effort, put a little more pressure on Assad, and wait for the regime to collapse. This is why we should expect a dramatic escalation as we begin Phase 2 of the conflict.

    Putin’s Line in the Sand: No Regime Change in Syria
    By Mike Whitney

    • September 17, 2015 at 16:11

      I think this analysis is inaccurate. While Davutoglu and neocons tried to make it out like Washington bending to Ankara, it was actually the other way round. To confirm that, US and NATO are withdrawing patriot missiles from Turkish border region – a clear signal to Turkey and Erdogan they are NOT with them on invasion of Syria.

      Probably there are super neocon hawks in US gvt and mil who favor this type of move but i don’t see it in Obama. Why does US want the over-flights of Syria to attack ISIS? Because they want that proximity in case Damascus collapses. That is when they might invade not before with a fighting Syrian Arab Army. See the link to BBC war correspondent in the article …. SAA does NOT look like a defeated army.

      • Abe
        September 17, 2015 at 21:05

        The analysis is quite accurate, in fact.

        The ballyhooed Patriot shuffle is irrelevant. A joint Turkish-US statement emphasized that the US is prepared to return Patriot assets and personnel to Turkey within one week if needed.

      • Michael
        September 18, 2015 at 11:51

        [email protected]

        You are correct,
        Abe analysis is not wrong, it is outdated.

        Situation is moving quite fast, and we cann’t disconnect it from the passing of the Iran deal. Russia has just said they won’t let down Bachar.

        Putin, master of diplomacy and understatements, just hinted at an agreement (or a wish ?) with USA to join forces against IS (Isil, Daesh). And lets it be suspected that he was increasing its milary help and supply to Syria.
        So now Nato, and allies would have to chance encounters with, not russians pilots and jets, but sol to air defence missiles: the famous Sam.300 and improved version.

        Forget about air strikes against Bachar; get boots on the ground anybody ?

      • Abe
        September 18, 2015 at 11:58

        Putin has not “hinted”. He has stated repeatedly and emphatically that Russia is opposed to the terrorist assaults along and within its borders.

        Putin realizes that it is futile to talk to the neocon hand: Barack Obama.

        • Mortimer
          September 18, 2015 at 15:27

          According to Pepe Escobar, the US/IS network is infiltrating Central Asia for the purpose of instigating “terror” in order to disrupt China/Russia plans for their New Silk Road.
          ( Find Escobar at http://www.atimes.com under his Empire of Chaos identity )

  9. Abe
    September 17, 2015 at 15:42

    As the Wave of Regime Change Crashes

    Since 2011, each and every one of the West’s “color revolutions” has predictably devolved into armies of US-backed terrorists attempting to divide and destroy each nation. In Libya, this goal has already long-since been accomplished. In Egypt and Syria, with varying degrees of failure, this agenda has been stalled.

    Egypt through sheer virtue of its size and the capabilities of its military, has prevented nationwide warfare. In Syria, facing invasion primarily from both Turkey and Jordan, violence has been far more dramatic and enduring.

    But despite initial euphoria across the West that their insidious conspiracy had indeed upended the MENA region entirely, Syria’s ability to resist the West’s proxy forces, and now, more direct intervention, has entirely disrupted this wave of regime change.

    US Senator John McCain (Republican – Arizona) who literally posed for pictures with terrorist leaders in both Libya and Syria, including the now head of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in Libya, Abdul Hakim Belhaj, at the height of the Arab Spring prematurely taunted Moscow and Beijing with threats to bring similarly US-orchestrated chaos in their direction. Suffice to say, Moscow and Beijing were not only ready for this destabilization, they were prepared to foil it before it so much as reached their borders.

    And as momentum stalled, the US and its regional collaborators attempted to justify direct military intervention in Syria first as they did in Libya – by claiming they would be averting a humanitarian disaster and assisting “freedom fighters.” However with the crimes the US and NATO perpetrated in Libya still fresh in the global public’s minds, this narrative was entirely untenable.

    Staged chemical weapon attacks were perpetrated on the outskirts of Damascus, under the nose of UN inspectors in a bid to frame the government of Damascus and again justify direct US military intervention against Syria. Again, the global public, recalling similar fabrications peddled by the West ahead of its ten year invasion and occupation of Iraq along with expert diplomacy by Moscow, averted war.

    And while it is increasingly obvious that Al Qaeda and ISIS’ presence in Syria and Iraq is the direct, premeditated result of US-NATO and their regional allies’ sponsorship of both groups, the West has attempted to use them as a pretext for direct military intervention not only in Syria, but again, against the government of Damascus itself.

    Cue the Refugees

    As this last attempt to justify a final push toward regime change in Syria falters, and as European powers begin deciding whether or not to intervene further in Syria alongside the US, a sudden and convenient deluge of refugees has flooded Europe, almost as if on cue. Scenes like that out of a movie showed hordes of tattered refugees herded along various borders as they apparently appeared out of what the Western media has portrayed as a puff of smoke at Europe’s gates.

    In reality, they did not appear out of a puff of smoke. They appeared in Turkey, a NATO member since the 1950’s and one of America’s closest regional allies. Turkey is currently hosting the US military, including special forces and the CIA who have, together with Turkish military and intelligence agencies, been conducting a proxy war on neighboring Syria since 2011.

    Social Engineering 101: How to Make a Refugee Crisis
    By Tony Cartalucci

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