In the years that I’ve been writing and talking about politics and public policy, I have learned one very sobering lesson: It’s nearly impossible to get people to care about even the most troubling and horrific problems if they are happening on the other side of the world.
It’s understandable. We have our own problems as a nation and as individuals. Whether it is people finding a way to pay the bills, caring for an aging parent, helping a friend get sober, surviving a divorce, or coping with cancer … the list goes on and on of the immediate and daily concerns we often confront, leaving little room in our heads and our hearts for the plight of people a world away.
We’ve been able to compartmentalize the plight of the Syrian people for years. And especially in an election year, where making American lives better was every candidate’s focus, it became even easier. Whatever cursory attention Syria got during this presidential election was meant to signal to each side’s base what degree of hostility we should have toward refugees who might be terrorists.
But the election is over. It’s time to acknowledge what we have comfortably ignored as a nation for too long. The implications of allowing Syria to spiral into further disarray are monumental. Politically, we’re allowing Russia and Iran to prop up a butcher. Our allies in the region are under immense economic stress from swelling refugee populations. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and other terror groups are exploiting a chaotic vacuum to their advantage. This problem isn’t going away.
Now Donald Trump inherits what President Barack Obama failed to solve. Yes, it’s complicated. But that’s no excuse not to try.
In fact, there are 8.5 million reasons to. That’s how many children are in need of immediate aid. For the more than 400,000 dead Syrians, 50,000 of whom were children, we are too late. That’s because the Syrian regime, backed by Russian muscle, has been bombing nurseries, hospitals, schools and other civilian targets for years, in some cases using horrific chemical weapons and cluster bombs to maximum effect.
The photos of Syria’s children — most notably of one who died and washed up on the shores of Turkey trying to escape, and another of a boy named Omran, sitting shell-shocked in the back of an ambulance — are heartbreaking reminders of the ongoing genocide that’s happening before our eyes, in plain view.
With this reality in mind, we must persuade the Trump administration and Congress to debate political, diplomatic and, yes, military solutions to try to staunch these atrocities. But first, before any of that, we must as a nation show them we care.
Trump has made clear during the course of the election that he would not take in any Syrian refugees. While that’s not the position I wish he would take, I can live with this, because keeping refugees out matters to him, and presumably his many supporters. And ultimately, the humane and practical solution is to secure a safe zone within Syria so that other countries, including ours, do not have a refugee crisis in the first place. Indeed, one of the most straightforward things we can do — and the most significant — is to give Syrians a safe way to return home. It’s also something Trump and a Republican-led Congress could agree on.
To this end, I’ve partnered with an awareness campaign called #HelpMeGoHome, with the sole purpose of pressuring political leaders to advocate for safe zones. We have to start somewhere — this is a pretty good place.
S.E. Cupp is the author of Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity, co-author of Why You’re Wrong About the Right and a columnist at the New York Daily News. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.