The reflection piece I wrote on the situation in Syria and the Middle East purposely was titled CONTAIN THE CONFLICT. DO NOT EXPAND IT. It can be found on our website (click here) and the website of AMERICA magazine. Among other things one of my hopes was that the United States would be a leader in urging every actor in the Syrian civil war to move away from facilitating war and instead be instruments to limit the violence and limit the actors from outside Syria from aiding one side or another in the Syrian civil war.

The use of chemical weapons is prohibited by an International Treaty of 1925 that most nations, but not Syria, have adhered to. The use of chemical weapons is abhorrent as also are many other acts of violence in today’s world.

Secretary Kerry is reported as saying that if Syria agreed to give up their chemical weapons and let them be destroyed under international control. The Russian Foreign Minister in the presence of a Syrian leader responded favorably to this remark of Secretary Kerry.

The US Administration has an opportunity to regain a positive role in the Middle East if the President could use this moment to insist that ALL the outside actors cease to support either the Assad regime or the rebel forces. Our country’s leaders could use their current position to make sure that the chemical weapons on both sides in Syria be placed under international control and be destroyed. Accepting that and verifying it then allows the President to reassert American leadership in terms that correspond to what Pope Francis has called for, namely ending this horrific trafficking in armaments that feed both sides in the civil war. Thus Saudi Arabia and western powers, including our own, would be forced to stop arming the rebels. Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and others supporting the Assad regime would have to stop aiding and abetting the Syrian authorities.

Does this resolve everything? Of course not! Does this guarantee peace? No! But refusing to escalate the violence and using whatever power and influence to push outside forces to stop doing what they are doing to exacerbate the violence would be a first very good step.

There are many other elements in the very complex situation in the many-sided realities of the Middle East. I mentioned some of them in my reflection piece. Certainly by itself what could happen in this vein leaves much still to be done. Yet, the day of prayer and fasting which brought us together with Pope Francis and the Church and others throughout the world would surely have been heard by the God who is the God of life and not death, whose son came to earth as the Prince of Peace.

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