Syrian slaughter: Numbers too large to conceive

It is hard to conceive of 60,000 dead Syrians. It would be as if every resident of Daytona Beach or Santa Cruz, Calif., were wiped out. Still, if you don’t live in these towns it’s hard to picture. But however hard it is (or because it is hard) to conceive of such large numbers of dead, the world — and the U.S., specifically — have allowed 60,000 Syrians to be slaughtered. Nevertheless, when 65 dead Syrians are found, it finally gets some attention, perhaps because it is especially gruesome or perhaps because one can conceive of 65 whereas 60,000 seems to be an abstraction.

Barack Obama, Chuck Hagel, John Brennan

President Obama and his nominee for defense secretary, Chuck Hagel (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo)

The Post reports: “The bodies of least 65 people shot in a mass killing were found in Aleppo on Tuesday, according to opposition activists. A video posted online Tuesday showed many of the victims lying on the muddy banks of the Quweiq River in the Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood of southwestern Aleppo with their hands bound. Most appeared to have been shot in the head, and some of the victims appeared to be teenagers. . . . Opposition groups said they expected the number of dead to increase.” Now multiply that by 1,000, and you have the total carnage (as far as we know) in Syria.

A coincidence becomes a cruel joke in this case as “President Obama pledged an additional $155 million in humanitarian aid for Syria on Tuesday.” Really, the problem isn’t enough humanitarian aid? Don’t get me wrong — that is needed but what would be better, of course, would be some definitive U.S. action to stem the mass murder. Aid is for victims; U.S. action would be to prevent more victims.

The president recently came up with a bizarre excuse for inactivity. He fretted over how one were to weigh the lives of Syrians, say, as compared to the thousands being killed in Congo. This is monstrous logic and if taken to its final conclusion would mean that we never act in defense of any people no matter what the strategic and humanitarian interests. Then again, as monstrous as it is, maybe that’s President Obama’s point: Forget it, victims. You’re on your own.

The notion that the choice is between doing nothing and putting boots on the ground is farcical. Granted, we now have the complication of jihadists who have mixed in with Syrian rebels, but that is entirely the result of allowing the crisis to drag on and on. We still have many good options including a no-fly zone to protect civilians and allow safe refuge for the rebels.

The president, however, told us a decade of war is over. The translation is that he’s really not prepared to engage the U.S. because we’re done with all that war stuff. The signal to Bashar al-Assad, not to mention the mullahs and the despots around the world, is plain: Hang on. Don’t worry. The U.S. won’t stop you. The oppressed have no protectors.

There are far less egregious political and domestic policy flubs that get more attention than the Syrian massacre. But history, I have a feeling, will have a different perspective. After all, 60,000 dead Syrians, an emboldened Tehran and a moral disgrace for the U.S. are a pretty big deal when you come to think of it.

Also on Right Turn

Morning Bits