“I think Pope Francis, in his own opinion, he clearly called for the United Nations to take the lead,” Christendom College history professor Brendan McGuire told CNA. “And generally this is true in terms of the orientation of the Papacy’s attitude toward international affairs, they would rather see things handled by international bodies than by individual nations.”
U.S. President Barack Obama is weighing options as the Islamic State – a terrorist group also known as ISIS – continues sweeping though Iraq and Syria, targeting religious minorities including Christians and demanding that they convert to Islam, pay a significant tax, or die. More than 1 million Iraqis are estimated to have fled their homes, seeking shelter from ISIS violence as refugees.
In response to the crisis, Pope Francis told a group of journalists Aug.18, “In these cases where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I don’t say ‘to bomb’ or ‘make war,’ (but) ‘stop it’…One single nation cannot judge how you stop this, how you stop an unjust aggressor.”
McGuire commented on the Pope’s words, saying they refer to an international intervention.
“He clarified that he wasn’t endorsing any particular means of stopping the aggressor at this point, but he was endorsing the principle that one can and also should stop aggressors,” McGuire said.
There are “caveats,” he added.
“There are unintended consequences that have to be taken into account. You can’t be allowed to let it turn into a war of imperial conquest or a war advancing one nation’s interests at the expense of peace or at the expense of human beings there.”
“The Pope’s words were very carefully chosen,” McGuire suggested, because he “has to be very, very careful about being seen to endorse war.”
In addition, he said, the Pope does not want to alienate entities in the region by seeming to “advance American imperial ambitions and not so much the cost of peace.”
Although the Pope wants an international coalition, one country could potentially wage a “just war” McGuire explained, but “they would have to be very careful to take into account all of the unintended consequences that would factor into a decision to go to war.”
If the U.S. were to intervene, it would enter an extremely complicated situation, McGuire stated. “I think it’s one of these situations where anyone who claims to have an easy answer just doesn’t understand the complexity of the situation.”
For instance, military action could bring unintended consequences with it. The rise of ISIS is itself an “unintended consequence” of past U.S. wars against the regime of Saddam Hussein and the “shadow war” aiding Syrian rebels, McGuire said.
“ISIS emerged from that context, it emerged from American foreign policy in the Middle East, destabilizing pragmatic regimes and destabilizing more secular regimes, and shaking the grip of those dictatorial regimes and thus creating a power vacuum,” he said, warning that the U.S. must not create another “power vacuum” if it destroys ISIS.
The U.S. should not fight the war alone, he said, but finding allies is no easy task.
“If we were to act without cooperating with other powers in the region, we would potentially lose the sympathy of some of those essential partners, partners in the region that would be essential to establishing a just peace there,” the professor said.
He explained that “building a coalition to solve this problem is going to be a very serious problem for the U.S.” because the powers in the region that oppose ISIS also oppose each other.
“For example, Turkey and Iran have conflicting interests. The Gulf States and the Assad regime have conflicting interests,” McGuire continued. If the U.S. were to work with the Iraqi government, which is perceived as “sectarian Shiite,” that could drive many Sunnis into the hands of ISIS.
“It has to be working with other people in the region, and finding a way to work with people that we’re not used to working with,” McGuire suggested of any potential U.S. involvement.
The Pope’s support of international action against attacks by the Islamic State should be met with United Nations intervention, one Catholic professor said.
Pope Francis, United Nations, Iraq, ISIS