Asymmetrical peacefare

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Twenty years ago, I was working on the Atlanta Constitution editorial board when we had a visit from a couple of Tory back-benchers, who were in town cooking up some sketchy business deal and presumably in need of an excuse to expense the trip. After listening to them chatter on for while, I asked why Her Majesty’s and every other supposedly honorable government in Western Europe were doing nothing to stop the genocide taking place in Bosnia. Leaning over conspiratorially — just between us Anglo-Americans, don’tcha know — one of them said, “Well, really, all of ’em are awful.”

So wogs began in Ljubljana, and it took President Clinton — acting too late according to some, unconstitutionally according to others — to arrange the NATO air strikes that brought peace to the former Yugoslavia. Notwithstanding Pope Francis’ assertion at his vigil Saturday that “violence and war are never the path to peace,” the empirical evidence suggests otherwise.

It’s worth noting that Bosnia — plus the unstopped genocide in Rwanda — pushed some liberal American denominations to give war a chance. In 1995, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America approved a statement on war and peace that declared:

Helping the neighbor in need may require protecting innocent people from injustice and aggression. While we support the use of nonviolent measures, there may be no other way to offer protection in some circumstances than by restraining forcibly those harming the innocent. We do not, then — for the sake of the neighbor — rule out possible support for the use of military force.

Three years later, the Presbyterian Church (USA) set out criteria justifying “military intervention for humanitarian purposes in situations of massive suffering and/or major violations of human rights.” But that was then, and this is post-Iraq and Afghanistan.

Still, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who has done more than any other American journalist to call attention to suffering around the world today, is in Obama’s corner on this one. In yesterday’s column he points out that in the past year the number of deaths in Syria has grown from 10,000 to 100,000, the number of refugees from 230,000 to two million.

In other words, while there are many injustices around the world, from Darfur to eastern Congo, take it from one who has covered most of them: Syria is today the world capital of human suffering.

So what if the president doesn’t have clean hands (drone strikes), if there are guys we don’t like fighting against the Assad regime, if the regime only killed 1,000 or so with the chemical weapons that have become the casus belli? So far, Obama’s war resolution has put the Syrian civil war into play on the world stage as nothing else has since it began. For that alone he deserves credit.