Rafik Hariri Center Senior Fellow Frederic Hof and co-authors Daniel Serwer and Sarah Grebowski write for The Hill on how saving Syria’s civilians must become the primary focus for concrete international measures:
That millions of Syrian civilians are suffering and dying from man-made disaster in the 21st century should prompt moral outrage worldwide. Syrians believe the world has abandoned them, as they daily fall victim to a cruel campaign of war crimes and crimes against humanity. If the intent is not genocidal – and it may well be – its effects certainly are. More than one-third of the 130,000+ killed were civilians, of whom 11,000+ were children. Over 3 million are cut off from food and humanitarian assistance. Some 9.5 million people have fled their homes, more than 3 million to neighboring countries. Countless others have been terrorized, traumatized, and tortured. The conflict is metastasizing to Syria’s neighbors and threatens the security of the region and the world.
Yet the world averts its gaze. Past proclamations that the West would “never again” stand idly by when governments inflicted murder and mayhem on vulnerable populations have, in the case of Syria, proven hollow. The same excuses that gave cover for inaction in the 20th century are deployed again: the bloodshed is two-sided, inevitable, and the product of irrepressible internal conflict; outside military intervention for humanitarian ends would do more harm than good; and national interests can be protected by means short of humanitarian military intervention.
Slaughter in Syria has even inspired new alibis: killings elsewhere (Congo) make the choice one of intervening everywhere or nowhere; and the only effective alternative to inaction is to invade and occupy. One senior White House official reportedly suggested that Syria would be a good place for Iran to have a Vietnam-like experience. Given the horrible implications of such a scenario for civilians, one hopes it too is merely an alibi for inaction.