Rescuing Syrian civilians is again a hot topic of discussion among foreign policy elites. In fact, for the nearly two years of the Syrian uprising, the West’s concern over Syria has been largely driven by the human toll, specifically the death toll of non-combatants. And well it should: The numbers of civilians killed in Syria is appalling. A recent, credible estimate puts the death toll at 60,000 in the last two years, and even that is likely an undercount. This tragedy prompts news coverage, along with calls for US military intervention and a war crimes trial for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The contrast to another war is striking. The US war in neighboring Iraq prompted a civil war that took the lives of civilians by the hundreds of thousands, but Americans’ concern for these besieged civilians was noticeably less generous than it is for the Syrians. There were no charities for the million orphaned children of Iraq. Even the death toll was hotly disputed or largely ignored, as if acknowledging the scale of mortality or probing its causes and consequences would itself be a moral failing.