If there is a hell, it must look an awful lot like Syria these days. More than 100,000 dead including thousands of children. Refugees by the millions. Starvation. Gruesome murder by chemical weapons. And now this, The Post reports: “Ten Syrian children have tested positive for polio, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, sparking fears of a major regional outbreak amid mass migration and the collapse of Syria’s health services under the pressures of civil war. Health officials warned of a significant risk of the highly infectious disease spreading after the cases were confirmed in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour.”
A disease once thought, at least in the civilized world, to be eliminated is back — for Syria is now in the throes of uncivilized chaos and unimaginable suffering. Refugees, chemical weapons and disease are not easily isolated: “Health workers have warned that the unsanitary conditions in which many of the millions of displaced Syrians live are breeding grounds for diseases such as polio, which is transmitted through contaminated food or water supplies. With as many as 4,000 refugees fleeing the country every day, the risk of the disease spreading is particularly serious.”
To those, such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.),who seemed to believe we should stay out of Syria in large part because Bashar al-Assad was “good” for Christians, we wonder if they understand our inertness has permitted hellish conditions to fester that threaten children of all faiths. I am compelled to recall former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams’ insight that President Obama declared himself to be a “citizen of the world,” but can’t be moved to do anything on its behalf even if doing something would also benefit America’s long-term security interests. Abrams wrote:
So does “global citizenship” instead mean people-to-people assistance, avoiding politics and military action to aid the millions facing poverty and disease? Such an approach might well justify engagement with certain regimes we would otherwise seek to isolate, and in any event it would show deep solidarity with fellow human beings whatever their religion, nationality, or politics. But the Obama administration has shown no interest in such an approach. Its maligned predecessor developed vast programs to stop the spread of malaria and AIDS. PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief) had spent $18 billion by the time George W. Bush left office, and even in the view of Bush skeptics has saved millions of lives. By contrast, Obama largely ignored Africa during this first term, leading to news stories with terms like “unmistakable sense of disappointment,” “widespread cynicism on the continent,” and “positively neglectful.” If “global citizenship” requires assisting people who are poor or sick, the key post for advancing it in Africa is that of assistant administrator for Africa at the Agency for International Development. Obama left that post vacant for more than three years.
Bush put America on the side of people in Africa suffering from AIDS. Under Obama polio is back. Did Obama intend for children in Syria to get polio? Of course not. But then all it takes for evil — and preventable disease — to triumph is for good men to do nothing, right? In words spoken at the Holocaust Museum in 2012:
We must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen — because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts, and because so many others stood silent. . . . You understand that change comes from the bottom up, from the grassroots. You understand — to quote the task force convened by this museum — “preventing genocide is an achievable goal.” It is an achievable goal. It is one that does not start from the top; it starts from the bottom up.
It’s remarkable — as we walked through this exhibit, Elie [Wiesel] and I were talking as we looked at the unhappy record of the State Department and so many officials here in the United States during those years. And he asked, “What would you do?” But what you all understand is you don’t just count on officials, you don’t just count on governments. You count on people — and mobilizing their consciences.
That was part of President Obama’s speech. It, horribly, turned out only to be a speech.