U.S. Secretary of State Kerry declared genocide

And that was that.

I have devoted radio show hours to this topic regularly over the years, more so in the past couple of years and especially these past months. Always feeling, however, that it’s not enough, considering what’s going on in the world of persecution, massacre and genocide of Christians and other religious minorities, especially by ISIS. The terrorist group has also targeted other Muslims. Yet ‘the international community’ seemed not to be doing anything of consequence to stop it.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has been a somewhat regular guest on the program and we’ve focused mainly on the latest update on the Genocide Resolution bill he sponsored. Over the months, he reported the bi-partisan bill was gaining greater support but still needed more. Finally, in mid-March, the House unanimously passed it, 393-0.

In a sign of overwhelming bipartisan unity, the resolution, H. Con. Res. 75, names and decries the ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities as “genocide.” By law, the State Department must make a genocide determination by March 17.

“It is my sincere hope that this trans-partisan resolution will further compel the State Department to join the building international consensus in calling the horrific ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and others by its proper name: ‘genocide,’” Fortenberry said.

A rapidly expanding international coalition has recognized that ISIS is committing genocide. The European Parliament, the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Pope Francis, and presidential candidates in both parties, among many others, are standing in solidarity to name and decry this genocide.

“At a time of deep political division in our nation,” Fortenberry continued, “the House has spoken with one voice to properly recognize and condemn this genocide—a threat to civilization itself. The genocide resolution elevates international consciousness and confronts the scandal of silence and indifference about ISIS’ targeted and systematic destruction of these endangered communities. A bipartisan and ecumenical alliance has formed to confront ISIS’ barbaric onslaught.”

The State Department initially said Secretary Kerry needed more time to study the situation before making any designation, although the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians presented a preponderance of evidence in their joint report, leading to one conclusion. The KofC launched an ad and a campaign to spread awareness about the genocide and engage people, citizens, organizations and members of government, in working to stop it.

Surprising nearly everyone (and likely some in the administration), Secretary Kerry came out a day later and publicly declared that what’s happening in the Middle East is, indeed, genocide.

“I sincerely hope that the genocide designation will raise international consciousness, end the scandal of silence, and create the preconditions for the protection and reintegration of these ancient faith communities into their ancestral homelands. Christians, Yezidis, Shia Muslim minorities, and others, including Sunni Muslim communities who have suffered grievous harm, remain an essential part of the Middle East’s rich tapestry of religious and ethnic diversity. They now have new cause for hope.

Or so it seemed in the moment. Scholar George Weigel puts framework around the picture.

The new thing, and the welcome thing, in Secretary Kerry’s statement was the mention of Christians as targets of genocide.

That statement would not have happened without the relentless, persistent work of human rights campaigner Nina Shea, who has lobbied for redress for persecuted Christians in the Middle East with a tenacity that deserves the highest respect. It wouldn’t have happened without the leadership of Congressman Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, who introduced the House resolution that passed on March 14 while Father (Douglas) Bazi (persecuted victim of the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Erbil) looked on from the House gallery. And the Kerry statement wouldn’t have happened without the prod of a report, “Genocide against Christians in the Middle East,” prepared by the Knights of Columbus and the organization “In Defense of Christians:” a remarkably detailed account of anti-Christian persecution, destruction, and slaughter that was addressed to the Secretary of State and contained a legal brief arguing that the “G-word” should be invoked and the matter referred to the Criminal Division of the Justice Department and the Security Council of the United Nations.

Father Bazi was aware that merely saying the “G-word” would change nothing on the ground for his people. But he welcomed the congressional resolution and the administration’s action because it called this ongoing atrocity by its proper name and would thus give his people hope that someone knew, and someone cared.

At minimum, passing the resolution and making the declaration would do that. But for crying out loud, it had to have carried some more weight in terms of aid, relief, action of some sort, one could reasonably expect.

One would have been heartbroken to have heard Nina Shea respond to that question on my radio program Monday that no, it had not changed anything. In fact, she said, on his visit two weeks ago to Baghdad, Sec. Kerry did not bring it up.

Why the silence? What difference, after all, did it make to declare that genocide was happening to populations of people at this time, this very moment?

…according to George J. Marlin, chairman of Aid to the Church in Need, there’s a sense that the declaration was the last the world will hear about it.

“It was like, ‘Okay, we’re done for the day. Let’s move on,’” Marlin said at a talk this week. “The question is what happens next.

“The Christian world, the Catholics in the United States, the bishops, have to bang the pots and pans loudly enough and say, ‘We are outraged by this. What is the West going to do?’” Marlin said…

“The first thing is humanitarian aid, which is very important, and to recognize that Christians are not going into the international camps,” he said, referring to a statement he made in his talk, that Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria fear the camps because of potential harassment from Islamic radicals in those camps.

Nina Shea told me on radio Monday that there’s been a “reckless disregard” for Christians in the UN refugee camps, who have been camping out near churches still remaining, for shelter against the ongoing persecution even in those camps.

This is unacceptable. If the government won’t act, the people who put them in office have to call them out on this humanitarian crisis. And meanwhile, do something else. Contact IDF, KofC, CNEWA, Aid to the Church in Need, Restore Ninevah Now, and Iraqi Christian Relief Council, among others, and let those in the path of genocide know help is on the way.

Stopping the atrocities of ISIS

We have to know the enemy we’re confronting. How close are we to that task?

Thirteen years after 9/11/2001, not close, it appears.

The president finally steps up to act. There are at least as many questions about what he says as shows of support for it.

The beheadings of two U.S. captives by Islamic State have steeled lawmakers to the need for more military action, and both Democratic and Republican congressional leaders were supportive of Obama’s plan on Wednesday.

But some Republicans in particular say they want more information from the administration about its wider strategy to combat global terrorism, and many would prefer a broad vote rather than one focused on funding.

Meanwhile…

Democrats are crossing the aisle again, this time as they voice strong support for attacking Islamic State, though the overwhelming majority of lawmakers from both parties oppose the idea of sending in any U.S. ground troops…

The White House has said Obama does not believe he needs Congress’ formal authorization to attack Islamic State.

And therein lies another problem.

Obama flatly said–sure, in the midst of saying he has already won congressional support for doing this (war against ISIL)–that he has the authority to do this. Period.

This reflects Obama’s contempt for all matters constitutional. He consistently abdicates his responsibility to use occasions like this to remind and inform the public about the constitutional issues involved. Now, I think he does have the authority to do this, but he needs to explain why…

I want a president who openly says, “Look, here’s a law on the books, and when I can abide by it without compromising our security I will, and thus I will go before Congress as the statute says, and thus seem to need its after-the-fact ratification of my decision to go to war, but this is not one of those cases, so I’m going to ignore this unconstitutional law.” Or, I want one who says, “I intend to obey the War Powers Act, because it’s law, and it’s constitutional.” Or I at least want one who says, “Hey, opinions on the constitutionality of the law are divided, and I’m going to consult Congress as much as I can and make the decision about whether to abide by its timetables only when the deadline comes.” But this blank “I have the power” talk telegraphs contempt for the intelligence of the American people, and for their duty to know their Constitution. Of course, a public that accepted that duty would cause problems for Obama in other areas.

And besides…

Isn’t it time we had a president who says aloud the obvious fact that when you massacre a bunch of Christians, you’re making it that much more likely that the American public will demand that the U.S. attack you? Right now, this would be a useful thing for certain terror organizations in Africa to hear…

Yes, really. Even, and especially, support from moral leaders in the Democratic Party.

And leading voices in media who join them in calling for relief from the onslaught of evil. Kathryn Jean Lopez covers that in this post at National Review Online.

But that circles back to the question at the beginning, do we, or does the administration, know the enemy?

Some learned views…

Charles Krauthammer:

Charles Krauthammer said President Obama’s was forced to develop his forthcoming plan to defeat the Islamic State because of the shift in public opinion. “This is a man who’s been dragged kicking and screaming to face reality,” Krauthammer said. “This is a classic example of leading from behind where he [Obama] waits for public opinion and now it’s the public who’s demanding he does something. Americans don’t like to see other Americans killed on television by a prideful enemy like that and our president doing nothing.”

He went on to say if the videos showing the beheading of two American journalists had never been released, Obama’s strategy toward the Islamic State would be completely different. “It changed everything,” Krauthammer said. “It [the videos] changed public opinion—and Obama is nothing if not responsive to public opinion. He doesn’t lead. Here it’s the public that’s leading.”

Because the public is seeing the brutality and threat of this manifestation of totalitarianism.

If we are to defeat the violent Islamist radicals who are today threatening the world, we must shine the brightest of spotlights on this malignant idea at the heart of their ideology. And we must counter it, not just with the force of arms, but with a compelling defense of the anti-totalitarian idea of morally ordered freedom.

What defines totalitarianism is a list of shocking and unprecedented demands:

Give fanatical leaders and movements absolute and permanent authority.
Make these leaders and their followers into virtual gods, charged to take control of history and transform humanity itself.
Release them from accountability to any law and institution, belief and custom, moral norm and precept.
Grant them complete control of every facet of human existence, from outward conduct to the innermost workings of conscience and belief.
The rise of this extremist ideology to prominence coincided with a deep crisis of faith that engulfed Europe after the carnage of World War I nearly a century ago. In response to this crisis, totalitarianism – initially in communist and fascist forms – rose to fill the void. Its vision amounted to the state’s replacing God as central to all things, while anointing certain people and their movements as humanity’s new leaders, deserving the ultimate powers once reserved for the deity.

For the better part of a century, totalitarianism has donned its share of masks and hijacked key vehicles in its efforts to subjugate the world….

The same totalitarian impulse that drove Nazism and communism has hijacked religion as its latest vehicle, creating radical Islamism.

From ISIL to Iran’s mullahs, and from al-Qaeda to the Taliban, these new totalitarians pose similar threats to freedom, dignity, and peace. Displaying characteristic contempt for the rule of law and the crucial distinction between combatants and noncombatants in the conduct of war, they have deliberately targeted civilians and resorted to mass murder, precisely as the Nazis and Communists did.

And here’s a bottom line…

the struggle we face today does not pit one religion against others, nor is it a battle of religion against humanity; rather, it is a struggle pitting lawlessness and tyranny against freedom and dignity. The irony is that this time it is being trotted out in religion’s name.

In this struggle, Muslims have a duty to their faith and to humanity to stand resolutely against Islam’s hijacking by people driven by the same diabolical impulse that unleashed the likes of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot on the world. They must rip away its religious mask and reveal its idolatrous soul before the world.

The religious ideology of this group must be understood to be addressed. But the president keeps sidestepping the Islamic factor in this battle of civilizations.

In a televised address on how to address the Islamic State this evening, President Barack Obama declared the organization variously known as ISIS or ISIL to be “not Islamic.”

In making this preposterous claim, Obama joins his two immediate predecessors in pronouncing on what is not Islamic. Bill Clinton called the Taliban treatment of women and children “a terrible perversion of Islam.” George W. Bush deemed that 9/11 and other acts of violence against innocents “violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.”

None of the three has any basis for such assertions. To state the obvious: As non-Muslims and politicians, rather than Muslims and scholars, they are in no position to declare what is Islamic and what is not. As Bernard Lewis, a leading American authority of Islam, notes: “It is surely presumptuous for those who are not Muslims to say what is orthodox and what is heretical in Islam.”

The president and his spokesmen claim to not be at war with the extremists who declared war on the US.

In a truly shameful display, the administration has spent the day after President Barack Obama’s address to the nation outlining his proposed response to the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria by downplaying his address to the nation…

On its face, it seems like the administration is sending mixed signals. The president made a rather clear case for a long campaign aimed at rolling back the nascent Islamic State in Iraq and eventually confronting them in their Syrian stronghold. Sources have suggested that this is a mission which will likely outlast the Obama presidency. So why pull punches today?

Josh Earnest made the administration’s thinking clear during his press briefing on Thursday in which he went to tortured lengths to insist that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al-Qaeda were synonymous. Why? Well, claiming these two groups are the same would mean that the administration does not have to approach Congress for a new resolution authorizing use military force.

Which is a big deal.

Josh Earnest made the administration’s thinking clear during his press briefing on Thursday in which he went to tortured lengths to insist that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al-Qaeda were synonymous. Why? Well, claiming these two groups are the same would mean that the administration does not have to approach Congress for a new resolution authorizing use military force.

Instead, the White House can point to the 2001 authorization targeting al-Qaeda, even though the White House had previously argued that the resolution was dated and should be repealed.

Kerry, too, asserted that ISIS “is and has been al-Qaeda.”

“By trying to change its name, it doesn’t change who it is, what it does,” he added.

Just don’t tell them that. “In a message posted on jihadi websites the al-Qaeda general command stated that its former affiliate ‘is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group [and al-Qaeda] does not have an organizational relationship with it and is not the group responsible for their actions,’” Time Magazine reported in February.

The White House’s insistence that the present campaign is merely a continuation of George W. Bush’s War on Terror is unlikely to quiet the increasingly loud voices in Congress demanding a vote on a new authorization.

Okay, well, even if we’re playing legal games with the word “war” and are trying to avoid the politics of getting the people’s representatives to sanction military action abroad, at least there is a plan for victory, right?

“What does victory look like here?” Earnest was asked on Thursday. “What does destroy mean?”

“I didn’t bring my Webster’s dictionary,” Earnest replied.

So while this nonsense has been going on, so has this. Read it and weep for her, and for her family and the countless other families of religious minorities in Iraq and other countries targeted by extremist Islamic actions to dehumanize or eliminate them. This is going on every day, like the other atrocities we’re hearing about, representing the countless others we don’t hear about.

I had a US Congressman as a guest on my radio show this week to talk about this, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry. He has been a champion of humanitarian rights. Immediately after the program, listeners spoke up asking that his voice of clarity and leadership be posted online. It is on the network show page, and on the app.

Here it is, in the first half of the show, on 9/10. Or in the podcast on the app. Around 15 minutes in, he’s compelling.

We can do a lot. Complacency is not an option.

How to help Christians, minorities in crisis

It’s good news that people are asking.

Stalwarts who have been working with embattled and endangered communities all along are pleading for relief. Whether they’re clergy, other religious, or faith-based organizations, they’re spent and crying out for help.

One anguished priest wrote to Pope Francis, out of desperation. He got a response.

Pope Francis has telephoned an Iraqi priest who is ministering in a refugee camp, according to a Vatican Radio report.

“The situation of your sheep is miserable,” Father Behnam Benoka, until recently a seminary vice-rector near Mosul, said in his letter. “They die and they are hungry. Your little ones are scared and cannot do it anymore. We, priests, religious, are few and fear not being able to meet the physical and mental needs of your and our children.”

“Your Holiness, I’m afraid of losing your children, especially infants who every day struggle and weaken more,” he continued. “I’m afraid that death will snatch some away. Send us your blessing so that we may have the strength to go on, and maybe we can still resist.”

In response to the letter, the Pope called Father Benoka and “reiterated his full support and closeness to the persecuted Christians, promising that he will continue to do his best to bring relief to their suffering,” Vatican Radio reported.

The refugees and those caught up in the violence while trying to deliver aid are at the point of helping each other survive.

Christians and other religious minorities who have fled areas in Iraq that have fallen under Islamic State control are now helping one another to survive as refugees, an aid worker said.

“They themselves have been displaced and they’re going around caring for those who are in need, who are in situations like they are,” Todd Daniels, International Christian Concern regional manager for the Middle East, told CNA Aug. 27.

Last week, Daniels was in Iraq, where it is estimated that more than 1 million people have fled from their homes amid the invasion of the radical Islamic State, also known as ISIS. The militant group has taken control of numerous cities and ordered Christians and other religious minorities to convert, pay a tax known as a jizya, or be killed.

The fleeing Iraqis – including Christians and other religious minorities – have sought refuge in other areas, such as the northern city of Erbil.

Daniels said that while the situation is desperate, there is much hope in the way religious communities and refugees are working to improve life there.

“Probably one of the most striking impressions was just the activeness of the local churches,” he said. “From morning to night they’re out there providing aid, providing relief and actually, a lot of the man power, for the groups we were working with by people who themselves have been displaced.”…

Some refugees hope that international security forces will help create a safe haven for Christians and other religious minorities, while others are just trying to grasp the reality that they will most likely never return to their homes.

“There’s really a feeling of not knowing what to do,” Daniels said.

Though I cover this ongoing crisis just about every day on radio and in writing, bringing in experts and giving out information, it can’t be repeated often enough. Because some people are just beginning to learn, others just beginning to pay attention, and some who realize the reality is dire, the relief organizations are on the ground and delivering aid, and the need for support is urgent and critical. But they don’t quite catch where they can contribute to that effort.

I was caught off guard by a frustrated listener who said, frankly, that tuning in briefly at different times as he could, he caught some of the conversations but not the ways to help, and wanted that information to be repeated often, so people tuning in and out as time allowed would hear something that gave them access to the relief organizations doing the hard, firsthand work of sustaining people fleeing for their lives.

For everyone’s sake, here are some of the best.

Catholic Near East Welfare Association is a papal agency delivering humanitarian aid and pastoral support in many locations globally, most acutely in the Middle East right now. They’re lean on staff and support costs, so most of the contributed funds go straight to the people actually in greatest need.

Catholic Relief Services is another long established aid organization on the ground where needs are the greatest across the globe, especially in the Iraq crisis.

Aid to the Church in Need is similar, also under the guidance of the pope and with the mission of aiding persecuted Christians and other suffering minorities.

The Knights of Columbus launched a major fund to help Christians threatened with extinction in Iraq.

“The unprovoked and systematic persecution and violent elimination of Middle East Christians, as well as other minority groups, especially in Iraq, has created an enormous humanitarian crisis,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “Pope Francis has asked the world for prayers and support for those affected by this terrible persecution, and we are asking our members, and all people of good will, to pray for those persecuted and support efforts to assist them by donating to this fund.”

Anderson added: “It has shocked the conscience of the world that people are systematically being purged from the region where their families have lived for millennia – simply for their faith. It is imperative that we stand in solidarity with them in defense of the freedom of conscience, and provide them with whatever relief we can.”

To that end, the US Bishops Conference has asked all parishes across the country to take up a special collection over the next two weekends to support immediate humanitarian and pastoral needs in the Middle East. Some began this past weekend. The USCCB site provides complete information on this initiative, including all the ways people can send aid and relief.

I was struck by a couple of different expert guests on radio last week saying the same thing, separately, on different days, about what was being lost in the elimination of Christians from the earliest birthplaces of Christianity. Besides the obvious.

They each said Catholics and other Christians have traditionally provided the hospitals, shelters, schools, homes, orphanages and distribution centers for basic needs in the areas they’re now being driven from, possibly at a point of no return. What will happen when they’re gone?

As Kathryn Lopez asks,

How many times have we heard: “Never again”?…

How often have we quoted: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”? And yet: Do we do nothing? What do we actually say in the face of evil?

We say those words over again, that quote from philosopher Edmund Burke, among other things that make us feel good to be aware and engaged, and feel like we’re alerting others to something grave that must be met with greater good and truth that can vanquish evil. But after saying those things, we too often go on to the next thing in our busy lives and tend to it.

This is a pivotal point in history.

“The spectacle of tragedy has always filled men, not with despair, but with a sense of hope and exaltation,” wrote Whittaker Chambers, whom National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. described as “the most important American defector from Communism.” Chambers explained: “Crime, violence, infamy, are not tragedy. Tragedy occurs when a human soul awakes and seeks, in suffering and pain, to free itself from crime, violence, infamy, even at the cost of life. The struggle is the tragedy — not defeat or death.”

Is this a time of awakening?

At one point in his Witness, Chambers recounts how the daughter of a German Communist explained her father’s defection: He had been an unquestioning Communist, and then “one night — in Moscow — he heard screams. That’s all. Simply one night he heard screams.”

Do we hear the screams? Do we join with the persecuted in the prayers they have led us in? Will we join their witness to the truth about the dignity of every man and woman, of whatever faith or no faith? Will we never again be silent as evil is happening?

That is as unthinkable as the crimes against humanity that are happening daily.

Obama’s war to save face?

Why did this president decide this is the time for US  intervention in Syria?

There has been no clarity, no consistency and practically no plan in his remarks, so people are having a hard time taking him seriously. Charles Krauthammer captures the essence of the moment here.

Senator Bob Corker: “What is it you’re seeking?”

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “I can’t answer that, what we’re seeking.”

— Senate hearing on the use of force in Syria, September 3

We have a problem. The president proposes attacking Syria, and his top military officer cannot tell you the objective. Does the commander-in-chief know his own objective? Why, yes. “A shot across the bow,” explained Barack Obama.

Now, a shot across the bow is a warning. Its purpose is to say: Cease and desist, or the next shot will sink you. But Obama has already told the world — and Bashar Assad in particular — that there will be no next shot. He has insisted time and again that the operation will be finite and highly limited. Take the shot, kill some fish, go home.

What then is the purpose? Dempsey hasn’t a clue, but Secretary of State John Kerry says it will uphold and proclaim a norm and thus deter future use of chemical weapons. With a few Tomahawk missiles? Hitting sites that, thanks to the administration having leaked the target list, have already been scrubbed of important military assets?

This is risible. If anything, a pinprick from which Assad emerges unscathed would simply enhance his stature and vindicate his conduct. Deterrence depends entirely on perception and the perception in the Middle East is universal: Obama wants no part of Syria.

Assad has to go, says Obama, and then lifts not a finger for two years. Obama lays down a red line, and then ignores it. Shamed finally by a massive poison-gas attack, he sends Kerry to make an impassioned case for righteous and urgent retaliation — and the very next day, Obama undermines everything by declaring an indefinite timeout to seek congressional approval.

This stunning zigzag, following months of hesitation, ambivalence, contradiction, and studied delay, left our regional allies shocked and our enemies gleeful. I had strongly advocated going to Congress. But it was inconceivable that, instead of recalling Congress to emergency session, Obama would simply place everything in suspension while Congress finished its Labor Day barbecues and he flew off to Stockholm and St. Petersburg…

And yet here is Obama, having done nothing yet but hesitate, threaten, retract, and wander about the stage, claiming Wednesday in Sweden to be the conscience of the world, upholding not his own red line but the world’s. And, incidentally, Congress’s — a transparent attempt at offloading responsibility.

This is deeply troubling for the administration’s mishandling and embarrassing show of irresponsibility, as Krauthammer points out.

Problem is, Obama promised U.S. weaponry three months ago and not a rifle has arrived. This time around, what seems in the making is a mere pinprick, designed to be, one U.S. official told the Los Angeles Times, “just muscular enough not to get mocked.”

That’s why Dempsey is so glum. That’s why U.S. allies are so stunned. There’s no strategy, no purpose here other than helping Obama escape self-inflicted humiliation.

This is deeply unserious. Unless Obama can show the country that his don’t-mock-me airstrike is, in fact, part of a serious strategy for altering the trajectory of the Syrian war, Congress should vote no.

That reference to the red line that Obama declared, then denied that he declared, is the public dissembling of a president who’s in over his head and may or may not realize that the shell game he’s so good at isn’t working this time.

Fittingly, Obama used a joint press conference in Stockholm with the Swedish Prime Minister to massage his own role in the diplomatic debacle over Syria in which Obama now finds himself. Obama insisted that he didn’t set a “red line” for action over the use of chemical weapons, but that Congress did … and so did everyone else, except Obama, of course:

“My credibility is not on the line — the international community’s credibility is on the line,” President Barack Obama said Wednesday in Sweden regarding his desire for a military strike in response to a suspected August chemical attack in Syria. He said the question is, after going through all the evidence: “Are we going to try to find a reason not to act? And if that’s the case, then I think the (world) community should admit it.”

President Barack Obama said Wednesday the “red line” he previously spoke of regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria wasn’t his own, but the world’s. “I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98%” of the world’s population “passed a treaty forbidding (chemical weapons) use, even when countries are engaged in war,” Obama said in Sweden.

It’s not surprising that he can’t get a big portion of his own party or base to support him, finally. Nancy Pelosi says she doesn’t know if the president can get a majority of House Democrats to back an attack on Syria.

Remember, if you believe what Pelosi said yesterday, she’s not whipping House Democrats on this. There is, in theory, no pressure from the Democratic leadership in Congress to take one for the team here. Endgame for intervention?

Can you get a majority of your caucus? Is that important?

I don’t know. I think it would be important to get a majority in the Congress. But I don’t know if it’s important how you would break it down. These issues are not really partisan…

What was your reaction to the decision to bring this to Congress?

I was encouraging consultation. I did not believe that the President needs to get authorization from Congress. I think that it is great that he asked for it. I think that it strengthens his hand, and our country’s hand, and our moral standing to Bashar Assad to have Congress support it. But it’s a challenge for the reasons you mentioned. It’s a challenge because the country is weary of war.

Full stop.

I was driving and listening to satellite radio in the car, switching stations at times to stay on coverage of the Syria debate. I came upon a panel discussion on CNN in time to hear former Clinton administration staffer and Democratic strategist Paul Begala say, repeatedly, that American are “war weary” and that’s the main reason for lack of support on this one. He went on to say it will take at least the next 50 years or so before we begin to get over “the debacle in Iraq”, and then repeated that we’re just “war weary.”

Yes, we are. But I’m always leery of buzzwords or phrases that turn up over and over in different news sites, used by different mouthpieces for any administration of either party at any time. This one has been particularly heavy-handed with talking points with a very complicit media, hence the obvious nature of the political meme of the moment.

So why would something that seems to suggest the president is on the wrong track continue to be repeated by his backers? To give him cover. Because Americans really are war weary, and so are the smart members of Congress in both parties, enough to ask the right questions and study the ramifications of their vote.

Alas, the president seems to be floundering.

The Obama administration has stumbled from one credibility crisis to the next on Syria, and now wants Congress to rescue Barack Obama from himself. Obama declares that the stated policy of the United States toward Syria is regime change, then dithers on how to effect it. Obama draws a red line, and then does nothing at all to prepare for the possibility that Bashar al-Assad might call his bluff.

This credibility crisis goes beyond Syria, however, and extends to the whole Arab Spring, for which Obama seemed all too pleased to take credit not terribly long ago. He demanded Hosni Mubarak’s ouster and quick elections in Egypt, which turned a stable American ally into a barely-contained disaster, and then has vacillated ever since on how to handle the crisis. Obama then led a NATO intervention in Libya while claiming not to want regime change, but ended up decapitating the Qaddafi regime anyway. That replaced a brutal dictatorship that was still cooperating with the West on counter-terrorism into a failed state that has allowed for a rapid expansion of radical Islamist terror networks through the whole region.

Now Obama wants to apply the Libya model to Syria, but cannot articulate a single American interest in launching a war.

Which gets to the heart of it all. After Paul Begala made those remarks about Americans being ‘war weary’, he and other panelists engaged in the political calculations of what a strike on Syria would cost or gain the president, his administration and his party’s future in the next elections. That bugs me a lot, how moral decisions turn into political calculations, and have for so many years. This USA Today article illustrates that clearly. So does this New York Times article.

Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George was on my radio show this week and I brought that up to him. He agreed, but said we shouldn’t be surprised, because everything has turned into a political calculation these days, frankly. He addressed the different angles on the Syrian debate and said it doesn’t measure up to the ‘just war’ criteria Christians apply to such interventions.

Pope Francis has called for intervention over Syria, too. And his is a plan that should unify the world.

With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict. With similar vigour I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people…

All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace. I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian of other confessions, as well as to followers of every religion and to those brothers and sisters who do not believe: peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs all of humanity!

I repeat forcefully: it is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace.

May the plea for peace rise up and touch the heart of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and be let themselves be led by the desire for peace.

To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.

On 7 September, in Saint Peter’s Square, here, from 19:00 until 24:00, we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.

This is the Syrian we, and they, need most.

Run-up to Syria

What’s about to happen?

Opinions and analyses are all over the place. Atrocities have been committed in Syria  against innocent human beings for what seems an interminably long time and have so outraged humanitarians around the world, we’ve been calling for someone to do something to stop it. But governments weren’t acting and the United Nations wasn’t acting and it was up to ‘alternative media’ to keep the generating news of it and encouragement for, well, ‘the world community’ to do something to end atrocities and save innocent lives and give people relief from terror.

The trouble is, there are so many places where people live with atrocities and terror and need humanitarian aid and relief, world leaders have to weigh it all and calculate their nation’s international commitments, while relief organizations are overloaded with work trying to respond to the need.

So leaving aside for the moment those other regions that desperately need our attention, Syria is not only in the spotlight, it just got put in the bullseye by President Obama and his chief military advisers. Because as most of the world knows, he painted himself in a corner

An assemblage of some thought provoking coverage…

As I type these words, the United States is not at war with Syria. Yet. (Firing cruise missiles at another sovereign nation, no matter how just the cause, is an act of war.) But many of the same people, plus some additions, that were, in the words of Greg Mitchell of the Nation, “So Wrong for So Long,” when it came to Iraq are now urging an obviously reluctant President Obama to “do something,” especially after reports of possible chemical weapon use by the Assad regime.

This leaves me in an increasingly familiar and uncomfortable position: total ambivalence. I understand why the use of chemical weapons changes the moral and strategic equation. There are some lines regimes should not be allowed to cross with impunity. To put it bluntly, it may be their civil war but it is our shared humanity. Not only are there limits to what governments can and should be allowed to do their citizens — two obvious examples being the use of weapons of mass destruction and genocide, which, as U.N. Ambassador Samantha Powers has documented, usually go hand-in-hand — but we really don’t want to live in a world where the use of such weapons are viewed as no big deal.

Thus, my ambivalence doesn’t stem from a lack of repugnance or outrage — it stems from the fact that I’ve seen this movie before and I know that it’s not going to end well…

We invaded Iraq without understanding the difference between a Shia, a Sunni, and a Kurd, much less that Kurds could be either Shia or Sunni, and, oh yeah, Iraq was home to one of the oldest Christian communities on Earth.

Let’s consider this piece alone for the moment, though there are so many others. So…

Thus, before we fire the first cruise missile, we need to ask ourselves “what is the goal?” It can’t be regime change if no other reason than, even if you can justify it morally, the United States really, really, really stinks at regime change.

Nor can it be to “alter the equation” on the battlefield. I’m sorry but, at most, our role is analogous to that of a referee. Our “job” is to make sure that both sides play by some semblance of rules, if not for their sake, then for ours. The outcome of the contest is not our concern. Not because we see the sides as moral equivalents but because in civil wars you need to ask, “What comes next?”

And in Syria, there is every reason to believe that the answer is, to paraphrase Madame de Pompadour, “après Bashar al-Assad, le deluge.” That’s almost certainly the case for Syria’s Christian minority, who, it should be noted, are descended from the first people to be called “Christians.” The Alawites can’t be too sanguine about their prospects in a post-Assad Syria, either. And they control the military and all those weapons we are worried about.

So, if regime change and “altering the equation” are out — and I pray they are — that leaves us looking for a response that will “send a message” without entangling us in a conflict that the American people want no part of, and where we can’t even begin to imagine what “success,” as in “a reasonable chance of success,” looks like.

Yeah, I’m talking about “Just War.” I hate to bring up Iraq again (not really), but one lesson we should have learned from that debacle is that finding a “just cause” is the easy part. Nation-states can always identify some “vital interest,” which, it should be noted, is not the same thing as a “just cause,” not that anyone notices the difference. The toughest part is figuring out how to protect that interest without making matters worse.

And making matters worse is an almost inevitable result of modern warfare, especially in a region as, pardon the cliché, “volatile” as the Middle East. Unexpected consequences should be expected, which makes defining success even more difficult than usual. Al-Assad can be driven from power and replaced with a well-intentioned Sunni leader who, in turn can be replaced by (a) a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, (b) a Salafist, or (c) another authoritarian strongman. The first two would be a catastrophe for Syria’s Christians and Alawites and bad enough for non-Islamist Sunnis, and the last one would mean that hundreds of thousands of Syrians died to replace one dictator with another. Meet the new boss, basically the same as the old boss.

Everyone’s trying to figure this out.

Here’s Stanley Kurtz:

Our coming intervention in Syria already looks like a no-win proposition. If we go heavy, we’re liable to empower al-Qaeda and assorted jihadists, or tie ourselves down excessively. If we go light, we’ll seem like paper tigers. Obama’s foolish decision to turn chemical weapons use into a red line is what got us into this mess. We wouldn’t be acting now had he not trapped himself with a bluff he thought Assad would never call.

When Samantha Power’s humanitarian interventionism first emerged as an explanation for the war in Libya, many found it hard to take the administration’s stated justification for action at face value. It’s true that pleasing Egypt’s “liberal” revolutionaries by going after Gaddafi was a partial motive for the war in Libya (another mistake). Yet Obama truly shares Power’s vision of utopian interventionism, even if he’s somewhat less inclined to take political risks on its behalf than she is. We wouldn’t have gone into Libya had Gaddafi not threatened Benghazi.

This time, it’s clear that we wouldn’t be acting in Syria had Assad not used chemical weapons. As Max Boot put it, prior to the gas attack there was “approximately zero chance” that America would intervene in Syria. Obama painted himself into a corner by explicitly calling chemical weapons use a red line last year. At the time it seemed like a cost-free way of endorsing Power’s vision. It no longer does.

Supporters and opponents of the Syrian intervention agree that simply lobbing a few cruise missiles at chemical weapons storage-areas will be useless or worse. Any attack that Assad easily survives will make us look weak, turning our “red lines” into jokes.

There’s a lesson here. Humanitarian interventions seem to be limited and discrete. Threaten to massacre a city, and we block you. Use chemical weapons and we take them out. In practice, however, it doesn’t work that way. Once we enter a conflict on humanitarian grounds, anything short of well-executed regime-change tends to make us look weak.

By defining chemical weapons use as a “red line,” instead of one factor among many to be judged in context at the moment of use, we allow humanitarian concerns to compel huge, risky, and difficult-to-control adventures that go way beyond their initial stated purpose. The alternative is to come off looking ineffective by ignoring our declared limits of tolerance. In other words, all we achieve by drawing humanitarian lines before-the-fact is to surrender control of our own foreign policy.

In even other words, Obama’s Middle East policy is incoherent.

As a result, Obama has come to be more disliked in the Middle East than his predecessor:

The Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project finds that support for the United States is lower now in Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan than it was in 2008. Approval for Obama’s policies was only 15 percent in Muslim countries last spring; what that rate would be now in Egypt and Syria is anyone’s guess, but a safe guess would be “lower.”

Truly amazing. It is hard to imagine the level of incompetence that is required for our foreign policy to be in such disarray. But there it is.

And here we are. On August 31st, President Obama announced his decision. Sort of.

Like John Kerry, I can’t get the images of children and women and men, families dead and dying from chemical-weapons attacks out of my head. But I also don’t see an administration with any plan — only what has been described as selective outrage. (And, yes, Mr. President, the chemical weapons attack was an affront to human dignity. We have some here, too, by the way.)  And now it looks like the president wanted to strike but couldn’t take the pressure and so is going to get Congress to let him off the hook? I think it is just as well that we won’t arbitrarily intervene, months late. But it’s not confidence-inspiring. It’s not leadership.

Many have noticed.

The president just appeared in the Rose Garden to declare that he has the authority to strike Syria in a limited way to punish the regime for its barbaric use of chemical weapons. And he will strike Syria—but has decided to seek Congressional authorization before he strikes Syria.

On the face of it, this is literally nonsensical. If Obama has the authority, he does not need Congressional authorization, and since he is characterizing his need to act in moral terms, a useful punitive strike in the midst of a civil war in which thousands can be killed in a day must as a moral matter be undertaken as soon as possible in order to punish the regime and degrade its ability to kill its own people at will. Instead, he has declared his intention to wait until Congress comes back in session—in eight days—and then debate the matter for a couple of days and then vote. At which time he will act. Unless of course it votes against him. In which case…what? He has said he has the authority to strike; what does he do then?

Princeton Professor Robert P. George, an expert on constitutional law and foreign affairs and the Chair of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, has some sound advice.

Before finally making the call about what to do in Syria, I pray that President Obama will call President George W. Bush and request his advice on the bomb or missile attacks he is contemplating. I know President Bush. He is a good and gracious man. He would take President Obama’s call and give him the best advice he has, based on his own experience, including what he learned from his own mistakes. He would not hold it against President Obama that Obama has, for his own political reasons, demonized him and blamed him for . . . well, for just about everything his own administration has been criticized for.

I have never met President Obama, but I suspect that he and those close to him believe–quite wrongly–that President Bush is a dummy and that President Obama is vastly more intelligent. He and they may therefore believe that President Obama has nothing to learn from President Bush. That attitude in itself, if I am right about it, is reflective of the arrogance that got President Obama into this pickle in the first place. “Pride” really does “goeth before a fall.” But I hope that President Obama will, on this occasion, with so much at stake for the people of the Middle East and for the world, swallow his pride and call President Bush. The unintended side-effects of an effort to punish Assad–an evil man, to be sure–while leaving him in power (so that radical Islamists among the rebel forces will not suddenly find themselves ruling a key country and controlling its state apparatus), could be catastrophic. According to the Washington Post, this is what President Obama’s own military advisors are telling him. I suspect that President Bush would reinforce that advice, and perhaps offer some points of his own that President Obama should consider.

…I have no idea whether Obama would take Bush’s advice, whatever it is. But this is a time for the current President to seek guidance wherever he can best get it, and I have no doubt that there is guidance to be had from the man who sat for eight years in the seat in which he is now sitting, and who made some decisions that turned out well and others that turned out badly.

It may be that President Obama will have to endure some embarrassment in order to do the right thing in the case of Syria. His rhetoric has placed him out on a limb. Climbing safely back may take personal humility of a sort that the current President has not previously displayed. Here, too, talking to President Bush might help. George Bush, knowing the burdens of the presidency, and being a man of deep faith, might just be able to assist Barack Obama, man to man, in developing the perspective he needs to do the right thing, even at the cost of some personal embarrassment.

That came after days of television and radio news programs airing clips of former Senator Obama declaring his profound disapproval of the president’s handling of decisions to engage militarily in foreign conflicts and perceived threats. Then, one time this week, in all the rhetoric of the media and political pundits, I heard someone say this occasion proves the cliche that it doesn’t matter where you stand as much as where you sit in the final analysis. Obama now sits in the hot seat, and he needs help.

No room for another humanitarian crisis

Maybe news print television news programs only have so much space to fill with what (they think) we need to know. But the new communications media cover such boundless terrain, there’s no excuse but apathy or lack of depth in their news staffs for the lack of coverage of some (many) geopolitical hotspots where people are living with existential crises.

Like the Ivory Coast, for crying out loud.

More than a million people have fled their homes in the Ivory Coast, a nation that appears to be slowly sliding towards a full-scale civil war. This is the dramatic situation facing the people of this West African country and was the subject of an appeal on Wednesday by Pope Benedict who called for urgent dialogue between the opposing sides. With Libya and Japan hogging the headlines, little attention is being paid by the international media to this under-reported and worsening humanitarian crisis in the Ivory Coast caused by the massive displacement of people, many of whom have crossed the border into neighbouring Liberia. Susy Hodges spoke to Antonio Cabral, the regional manager for west Africa for the catholic development agency, CAFOD, who has just spent 10 days in the Ivory Coast /Liberia border area. Cabral says the situation is very grave and not getting the attention or funding that it deserves:

“The situation is very serious because basically what we are witnessing is civil war in Ivory Coast and people are fleeing… with nothing, basically running for their lives and so the needs are huge.”

Asked whether he believes the crisis has been rather forgotten about, Cabral replies: “I’m afraid so, the media doesn’t seem to have space for a big humanitarian crisis in the Ivory Coast, maybe because there is no oil or maybe the other 2 crises (in Libya and Japan) have got all the headlines but it is a huge crisis and it’s very important that we raise the profile on this … because people are suffering and are in need of our help.”

Wherever else the media go, they probably don’t go here, one of the best places people can help people.

UPDATE: This is getting worse.

The slaughter unseen

The global community is intervening in certain geopolitical hotspots where a humanitarian crisis looms. But there’s a place that’s hidden in plain sight where massacre is an everyday occurrence, and it goes unnoticed by the power elite.

A friend of mine made this comment today: “I think Gaddafi did atrocious things to his citizens, and I’m always for the protection of life. However, I would respect our Commander in Chief more, and I think the world would too, if he did not support the mass slaughter that takes place in our country everyday.”

Excellent point. She was referring to President Obama’s speech Monday night on the Libyan crisis, and to one specific line. But read in full, it’s all remarkable when read in another context: the regard for human life.

Here’s a thought experiement. First, let’s snip:

But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act…

Moammar Gaddafi. He has denied his people freedom…and terrorized innocent people…

In cities and towns across the country, Libyans took to the streets to claim their basic human rights. As one Libyan said, “For the first time we finally have hope that our nightmare of 40 years will soon be over.” …

Innocent people were targeted for killing…

And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right…

To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and – more profoundly – our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action…

This voice is just one of many in a region where a new generation is refusing to be denied their rights and opportunities any longer.

Now, let’s read that with regard for every single human life, everywhere, at all stages. And for the people who take action every day to save them.

Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

And may God help us, and be merciful on us, all.