U.S. President Obama is in the midst of seeking Congressional approval for a limited military strike against the Syrian government in response to evidence that it used chemical weapons. We asked our Aleteia Experts what they thought of the prospect of U.S. military intervention in Syria and what it could mean for Syrian Christians.
Syria and Catholic Just War Doctrine
“The U.S. should do nothing to help al Qaeda affiliated Islamist rebels take control of a pluralist society,” says author John Zmirak. “There have already been blood purges of Christians and other religious minorities in rebel-held areas. Why should we think their behavior would improve when they gained absolute power?”
“Furthermore, Obama is not even trying to further peace (the only legitimate goal of war), but to preserve U.S. credibility and look tough in the eyes of the world. As Jon Stewart quipped, we're going to war in Syria ‘because we're in the seventh grade’ and we feel the need to confront a ‘bully.’ It's obscene.”
Does Obama’s proposed intervention pass the test of the Church’s Just War teachings? “I don't think so,” says Anthony Esolen, Professor of Renaissance English Literature and the Development of Western Civilization at Providence College. “The Church's teachings are a high bar to clear in this case.”
“There must be some confidence of success, yet we cannot define with any degree of specificity what should constitute ‘success,’ and it's likely that our entry into the muddle will only muddle things up even worse than they are now. We have also not been attacked by the Syrian nation, and we do not even know, granted that chemical weapons have recently been used, which of the factions has in fact used them. We would be intervening on behalf of one bastion of injustice in their fight against other bastions of injustice.”
Ashraf Ramelah, president and founder of Voice of the Copts, agrees U.S. intervention would violate the principles of Just War doctrine. "Invasion by the U.S. in a civil war raging in Syria now would violate the Just Intent aspect of the Just War Theory in that the outcome would benefit our enemies — rebel terrorists such as the Muslim Brotherhood — who clearly destabilize the region. This decreases our chances of securing peace in the world."
"The United States should not intervene in Syria — a shallow and desperate maneuver to appear to the world as the Good Samaritan. […] Will this action ensure that innocent people are safe? No. So the real problem will not be solved at all by U.S. action as such but only exasperated in favor of the terrorists."
Author and commentator Russell Shaw disagrees and advocates limited military intervention combined with aggressive peace talks. “Although President Obama's proposed ‘shot across the bow’ has been widely mocked, something fitting that description is probably the best course of action right now. Use missiles to chew up a couple of airfields as a warning to Assad not to use poison gas again. But couple this with an all out push by the international community, such as it is, to broker a peaceful settlement in Syria.”
Is Syria the New Iraq?
George Neumayr sees hypocrisy in Obama’s actions when compared to what he said about the Iraq War a decade ago. “In his 2002 speech, Obama said that ‘petty dictators’ don’t justify military intervention, that Saddam Hussein posed no ‘imminent threat’ to the U.S., that war would divert attention from domestic problems, and that a poorly conceived war would ‘fan the flames’ of the Middle East and make a bad situation worse.”
“Substitute ‘Syria’ for ‘Iraq’ in the speech and one has a decent rejoinder to his Saturday announcement: Assad is a petty dictator; he hasn’t attacked the U.S.; this is a wag-the-dog diversion by a floundering president; the lack of any coherent strategy is sure to destabilize Syria and boost Islamic radicals.”
“The justification for this war, from the vantage point of vital American interests, is nil. It makes about as much sense as Assad announcing that he will launch military strikes on the U.S. because Obama supports the killing of over a million unborn babies a year.”
Neumayr is equally critical of Republican lawmakers who support Obama’s plan. “It is sad to see Republicans like Boehner join in this phony harrumphing about evil abroad. Fix your own country. Address America’s moral evils. Pols who can’t stop chemical abortions in America won’t stop chemical bombing in Syria.”
The Bleak Future of Syrian Christians
“A U.S. intervention would be disastrous for Christians in Syria,” says William Kilpatrick, author of Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West. “[They] have already suffered immensely at the hands of the Islamist rebels. Any degradation of Assad's forces will likely strengthen the hand of the rebels and allow them to step up their attacks on Christian villages and neighborhoods.”
Kilpatrick sees a pattern in Obama’s foreign policy regarding middle eastern Christians. “The Obama administration has shown little concern for the fate of Christians in the Middle East. On the contrary, the administration has exhibited a clear pattern of favoring Islamist groups who seek to subjugate or exterminate Christians, while helping to topple secular regimes that have traditionally offered Christians some degree of protection. By enabling a Muslim Brotherhood victory in Egypt, we paved the way for a vicious persecution of Egypt's Christian Copts. Let's not make the same mistake in Syria.”
Zmirak agrees U.S. intervention would be bad for Syrian Christians. “U.S. intervention will only aid in the ethnic cleansing of Christians from one more Middle Eastern country. It will be a disgrace as our war in Iraq was a disgrace.”
Esolen thinks the situation is bleak whether the U.S. intervenes or not. “The future will be miserable, no matter what happens. But the secular west is willing to accept the pogroms against Christians, not as a necessary evil, I'm afraid, but as a side benefit. There certainly hasn't been any outcry from that quarter.”
Shaw points to deeper factors at play missed by most commentators. “Most of the players in this ugly game appear to be maneuvering for their own advantage, with little regard for what's best for Syria and the Syrian people. As we pray for peace, we need to pray for a universal change of heart.”
The following Aleteia Experts contributed to this article:
Anthony Esolen teaches Renaissance English Literature and the Development of Western Civilization at Providence College. A senior editor for Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, he writes regularly for Touchstone, First Things, Catholic World Report, Magnificat, This Rock, and Latin Mass.
William Kilpatrick is the author of Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West.
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.
Ashraf Ramelah is the president and founder of Voice of the Copts.
Russell Shaw is former Secretary for Public Affairs of the U.S. Catholic bishops conference. His books include American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America and To Hunt, To Shoot, To Entertain: Clericalism and the Catholic Laity.