In his statement yesterday on the conflict in northern Iraq Pope Francis helped to clarify the moral basis for military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and also defined its limits. President Obama should take some pointers.
In cases where there is unjust aggression, said the Pope, a moral duty exists to stop the aggressor. This is not an endorsement of war but a reiteration of the ‘just cause’ criterion for when limited military force may be permissible. It is a statement of the ‘responsibility to protect’ principle endorsed by human rights groups and adopted by the United Nations and most countries.
When innocent populations face imminent threat of attack, it is morally justified to take action to stop the killing. No nation alone should decide how to respond, the Pope emphasized. The determination of whether aggression has occurred and what should be done to stop it is up to the United Nations. The responsibility to judge and act belongs to the international community, not an individual country. The pontiff also emphasized that the imperative to protect does not mean bombing or making war.
President Obama on the other hand clings to the threadbare argument that U.S. bombing and drone strikes in the region are necessary to protect American military advisers based hundreds of miles away in Baghdad. The administration is claiming open-ended authority to launch military strikes and seems to be planning a protracted military campaign to counter ISIS.
No one objects to preventing extremists from murdering civilians and taking over cities and towns, but President Obama should follow Pope Francis’ advice and bring this issue to the UN Security Council. Let’s work with other nations to develop a comprehensive strategy for countering ISIS and cutting off its sources of recruits, weapons and money. If further military action is deemed necessary, it should be multilateral not unilateral.