Because these people need help and it’s not clear that a military intervention will help them. In fact, it’s pretty well understood that the most vulnerable segments of society and the minority communities (e.g. Christians) will suffer the most.
John Allen, an expert Vatican journalist has an excellent piece comparing the similarities in the Pope’s/Vatican’s approach to Iraq and Syria. He makes the very important point that despite John Paul II’s call for peace in Iraq, he never called the war in Iraq illegitimate (or unjust).
In his Angelus Address last Sunday (rough Vatican English translation here), Pope Francis enunciated the evils of war. As world leaders consider any type of military attack on Syria, it is absolutely fundamental that they realistically consider the reality of the effects of war, particularly on the innocent and the weak. Part of the criteria for the just war theory is that every other means of stopping the aggressor “must be shown to be impractical or ineffective” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2309). Leaders and citizens around the world have yet to be convinced.
Consider the response from a Senator of President Obama’s same Democrat party. James Taranto in his “Best of the Web” column on Thursday, picked up on it following the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote (10-7) on Wednesday to approve the President’s request for authorization to use military force in Syria:
The committee vote shows that both parties are divided. As the Washington Post notes, two of the panel’s 10 Democrats, Connecticut’s Chris Murphy and New Mexico’s Tom Udall, voted “no.” Three Republicans voted “yes.” The Senate’s most junior member, Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey (elected in June to fill the John Kerry vacancy), voted “present,” although his comments suggest he was leaning toward “no” owing to “my worry about a greater involvement in Syria.”
One is tempted to mock Markey for that old Obama gambit–“he vowed to make a decision by next week,” the Globe reports–yet one resists the temptation when one reads his rationale: “Asked why he didn’t just oppose the authorization, as did some of his colleagues who had similar concerns, he said, ‘A “no” vote would have indicated I had sufficient information on which to base the decision. Which I did not.’ “ Given the way this administration bullied through ObamaCare and other domestic legislation, it is easy to believe that concern is well-founded. [Emphasis mine.]
I’ll take Sen. Markey’s comments and vote as a suggestion that the Pope is not off-base in calling for prayer and fasting.
There’s a reason why we have the saying, “Pray like it all depends on God; work like it all depends on you.” Part of the role of prayer is that it can lead the mind to greater understanding and clarity. Since the world doesn’t see yet a clear and better solution, the Pope’s suggestion might actually lead to some successful options. Fasting is a means of detachment and a way of offering sacrifice for one’s own sins, for reconciliation, or for the good of others. It “expresses a conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others” (Catechism, 1434). That’s what we’re looking for: conversion. And part of conversion is to better understand the will of God. We know that his will is peace; we just don’t know yet which forms of justice we need to arrive at that peace.
Representative Chris Smith has come up with an interesting alternative to a military strike: set up a Syrian war crimes tribunal:
It [A war crimes tribunal] shows the power of what happens when everyone’s watching and you know you will be held accountable. Before Bashir got indicted, he was a free agent. Even people like Charles Taylor [who was indicted of war crimes by the Sierra Leone tribunal] understood this when he fled to Nigeria, then the Nigerians coughed him up, and now he’s convicted. People get genuinely concerned when they’re isolated and know that we’re going to be relentless until they’re behind bars.
Not a bad idea. I’ll leave it to the relevant experts to examine it. But it points to the very reality that there are other options to consider before military aggression.
Another consideration was put forth in an explosive article by Oriana Fallaci in 2003, just as the U.S. was preparing to invade Iraq. Versions of the article were published in The Sunday Times and The Wall Street Journal. Fallaci, also an expert journalist, though not a Vaticanista by any means (she was a professed atheist), argued that in order for an invasion to work, the culture on the ground had to be primed for regime change. As a member of the Italian resistance when the Allies invaded Italy, she lived the experience of wanting and fighting for freedom and democracy. The resistance was the Italians who were the boots on the ground before the Allies arrived.
There was no significant resistance to Saddam Hussein waiting to meet troops as they went into Iraq.
A generation of young people had grown up without much education and people with means had fled the country. That does not leave a society ready for democracy. Sure, there were plenty of grateful people, like these school children with my brother in Iraq. But many factors, including the embargo (which was not supported by the Vatican because, again, the least among them would suffer the most) left a society that was not prepared.
To redesign it and to spread a Pax Romana, pardon, a Pax Americana, where freedom and democracy reign; where nobody bothers us any longer with attacks and massacres. Where everybody can prosper and live happily as in the fairy tales — nonsense. Freedom is not a gift, like a piece of chocolate, and democracy cannot be imposed with armies.
Yes, I know it’s odd that I’m quoting a woman who at the same time targeted John Paul II with her screed. But part of good prudential reasoning when deciding whether to use military force includes a consideration of a variety of opinions and, perhaps most importantly, history.
In his Angelus Address, Francis forcefully stated, “War never again! Never again war!” John Paul II said the same about Iraq. He was quoting Paul VI. Maybe one way to understand these exhortations would be to see them as a goal, not unlike Jesus telling people to “go and sin no more,” even though they most likely did and we certainly do.
The decisions we make now will pave the way for the future. If we are striving for a world without war, then we must act justly. At this point, justice demands that we ascertain whether all other means have been exhausted, success is a strong possibility, and that the evils caused by the use of arms are not greater than the evil to be eliminated. As long as those questions are open and debatable, we need serious prayer so that we and our leaders can approach things with clear minds and honest hearts.
Pope Francis will lead the prayer vigil today in Rome from 7p.m. to 11p.m. local time (Eastern Time 1p.m. to 5 p.m.) You can follow along in the Italian/Latin booklet. You can watch live. Wherever you are, whatever your faith, do take a moment to lift your mind and heart to God for peace in Syria and throughout the world. I’m certain we can all think of situations requiring the blessing of peace.