- (Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
President Barack Obama Friday said it is America's obligation to hold Syria to account for reportedly using chemical weapons killing 1,429 people. However, an influential U.S. Catholic bishop warned that U.S. military intervention would cause "inevitable havoc and deaths."
"Part of our obligation as a leader in the world is making sure that when you have a regime that is willing to use weapons that are prohibited by international norms on their own people, including children, that they are held to account," Obama said Friday at the White House.
"We're not considering any open-ended commitment," the president added. "We're not considering any boots on the ground approach."
The White House on Friday released its "assessment of the Syrian Government's use of chemical weapons" by President Bashar al-Assad's government, saying it assesses "with high confidence" that the government carried out a chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb on Aug. 21, killing 1,429 people, including at least 426 children.
The Syrian government's action also threatens U.S. national security interests, Obama said, explaining it further threatens "friends and allies like Israel and Turkey and Jordan, and it increases the risk that chemical weapons will be used in the future."
The president stated, "I have said before, and I meant what I said, the world has an obligation to make sure that we maintain the norm against the use of chemical weapons."
The United States does not want the world to be paralyzed, Obama said. "And frankly, part of the challenge that we end up with here is a lot of people think something should be done and nobody wants to do it. And that's not an unusual situation, and that's part of what allows over time the erosion of these kinds of international prohibitions unless somebody says, 'No.'"
He added, "I assure you nobody ends up being more war-weary than me."
However, Bishop Richard Pates, head of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, called on the United States to work for a ceasefire instead.
"The possibility of a diplomatic resolution seems much more appealing than the inevitable havoc and pain and suffering and deaths, especially to innocent civilians that will occur by any military undertaking of the United States," Pates, the bishop of Des Moines, Iowa, told National Catholic Reporter on Friday.
"I think that we can phrase it in a lot of different ways, but we have to hopefully have learned something from Iraq, with the unintended consequences," Pates said. "I think our position is very strong, in conjunction with the Holy Father, is that we feel that this situation must be addressed through diplomacy, with a negotiated resolution in the best interests of all. You know, Pope Francis' mantra is 'dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.'"
Pates has also written a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, saying, "We ask the United States to work with other governments to obtain a cease-fire, 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."
Kerry, a Catholic, argued on Friday that a lack of response would have a bearing on America's credibility. "A lot of other countries whose policies challenge these international norms are watching," he said at the State Department. "Our concern is about choices that will directly affect our role in the world and our interests in the world," Kerry added, warning that if the U.S. stands by, "there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe that they can do as they will."
Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg, Germany, has also urged the United States to consider an alternative to an armed intervention, unless there is "total certainty of the confirmed damage, serious chance of success" and a capacity to avoid "worse damage than that to be eliminated." Schick is also the head of the German bishops' commission for international church affairs.
"Dropping bombs there actually may lead to even greater evils than what we're trying to stop in the first place," added Tobias Winright, an associate professor of theological ethics at Saint Louis University, according to the Catholic news agency. "What if it leads to a bigger war?" he asked. "We need to try to determine if the good from this is going to outweigh the evil, or if it is going to lead to greater evil."
Syria has witnessed a civil war for the past two years between the supporters of President Assad's regime and rebel forces seeking to overthrow his government.
The Syrian government has denied responsibility for attacks, blaming them on rebels.
British Prime Minister David Cameron initially pushed for a U.N. resolution to approve military action, but the parliament voted against it. However, French President François Hollande announced Friday his country would offer strong backing for international military action against Syria. The Arab League and Turkey have also offered their support to the U.S.