The war in Syria and how the United States should respond in the wake of a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1,400 Syrians last month has dominated much of the news in the last few weeks.
Pope Francis and other Church leaders have steadily and persistently cautioned against military intervention of any sort at this time by the United States and other concerned nations, with the pope even calling for a special day of prayer and fasting last weekend for peace in Syria and throughout the Middle East.
Indeed, the time is not right for a military strike, and the world would be wise to heed the words of Church leaders who understand that military intervention stands a good chance of doing more harm than good, despite the best intentions of the United States and other nations horrified by the use of chemical weapons.
Diplomacy and other forms of non-violent international pressure deserve more time and effort in light of the serious risks — including to innocent and vulnerable civilians — posed by a military strike. As this issue of The Catholic Spirit went to press, Russia proposed that Syria surrender all of its chemical weapons to international authorities. It’s a proposition that deserves serious discussion.
Syria’s civil war has so far killed 100,000 people and displaced some 6 million others, many of whom have fled to neighboring countries such as Jordan and Turkey. Those who work with refugees in the region fear that an attack could worsen the problem. The apostolic vicar of Istanbul told CNS recently that the nation “can’t even cope with the amount of [Syrian] refugees here already.”
Clearly, more violence isn’t the answer.
Syria is in desperate need of a political solution that prevents the regime of President Bashar Assad from ever using chemical weapons again, protects Syrian civilians from further harm and helps bring an end to a protracted war. Such a solution might also be a first step to helping broker peace negotiations in other Middle East hot-spots like Egypt and the Holy Land. That would be good news for the region and ultimately for U.S. interests as well.
Time for reflection
How to achieve this goal in cooperation with the international community should be the focus of discussions within the Obama administration and Congress.
A limited military strike may disrupt and even weaken Assad’s military machine for a time, but the approach stands little chance of protecting the civilian population from further harm at the hands of its own government and achieving the ultimate goal of a lasting and just peace. In fact, military intervention stands a better chance of escalating Syria’s civil war and spilling over into other parts of the region.
What is needed is a conversion of mind — both inside and outside Syria — about the use of force and violence to achieve political objectives.
One can’t help but think of the conversion that happened some 2,000 years ago in Syria on the road to Damascus. St. Paul, who once persecuted Christians, saw the light and became a great evangelist and preacher of the Gospel.
Pope Francis is asking the world for the same conversion of heart and mind. He is asking all Catholics and others of good will to work for the Gospel values of reconciliation and peace. We need to reflect in prayer on what he is asking and then help our elected leaders make decisions that steer clear of more violence and have a real chance of facilitating peace in Syria and throughout the Middle East.