Haven’t we learned? Pursue negotiations before taking military action in Syria Print
Written by Mary Uhler   
Thursday, Sep. 05, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

In the September 12, 2002, issue of the Catholic Herald, I wrote an editorial called “Iraq war: President has not made the case.” At that time, I didn’t think President George W. Bush had succeeded in mounting a convincing argument in favor of invading Iraq.

I agreed that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous dictator who had sacrificed his own people’s well-being to become a military power. However, it wasn’t proven that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Later, we learned here weren’t any such weapons in Iraq.

Committed to two wars for over 10 years

Yet on March 20, 2003, the United States led an invasion into Iraq. At the same time we were also committed to a war in Afghanistan.

It has been more than 10 years, and we’re still involved in both of those countries. Fortunately U.S. involvement is lessening, but we’ve spent a great deal of money and resources — and most importantly lost many lives — in these past 10 years.

Now we’re contemplating military action in Syria. Haven’t we learned our lesson yet?

Pursue negotiation, not military action

While we mourn the lives lost in Syria — especially those of innocent civilians —I hope the U.S. government will listen to Church leaders, from Pope Francis to Catholic bishops in Syria and the United States, to pursue negotiation and work for a ceasefire rather than taking military action.

On August 29, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Pope Francis met at the Vatican. There Pope Francis spoke of Syria’s “tragic situation” and said that “the path of dialogue and negotiation between all components of Syrian society, with the support of the international community, is the only option to put an end to the conflict and to the violence that every day causes the loss of so many human lives, especially amongst the helpless civilian population.”

Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, quoted Pope Francis in an August 29 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. Bishop Pates urged Secretary Kerry to work with other governments to “obtain a ceasefire” in Syria and create “a future for all Syrians, one that respects human rights and religious freedom.”

Need a political solution

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops previously had urged an end to violence in Syria. “The longstanding position of our Conference of Bishops is that the Syrian people urgently need a political solution that ends the fighting,” Bishop Pates said.

“We ask the United States to work with other governments to obtain a ceasefire, initiate serious negotiations, provide impartial and neutral humanitarian assistance, and encourage building an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens, including Christians and other minorities.”

U.S. should work with United Nations, allies

The United States should not take on the role of policing the world’s trouble spots by itself. We should be working with the United Nations and our allies before taking military action.

On August 29, Great Britain’s Parliament defeated a motion from Prime Minister David Cameron to join a U.S.-led strike on Syria. The motion was in support of military action if it was backed up by evidence from U.N. weapons inspectors about whether chemical weapons were used on an attack on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21, in which hundreds of people died.

The French government has said it will continue to support the U.S. in a military action in Syria. However, the German government has not agreed to take part in such action.

What can citizens do?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (par. 2308) says, “All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.” Only after all peace efforts have failed can governments wage war for “legitimate defense.”

I would suggest two steps for us citizens:

• Pray daily for a peaceful solution to the conflict in Syria and other trouble spots in the world. Pope Francis has especially encouraged us to pray to Mary, Queen of Peace.

• Contact the White House comment line by phone at 202-456-1111 or e-mail ( and give your opinion on this vital issue.