Pope Francis historic address to both houses of the US Congress on Sept. 24th 2015, was a speech marked by respect for America´s duty to first and foremost concern itself with the common good of it´s people: “You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics.”
Before Francis expressed concern for addressing urgent international humanitarian issues, he first underscored the equality of all men and their unalienable rights quoting from America´s founding document: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776).
Pope Francis also reminded America of its legacy of dedication to the principles of liberty; full rights for all regardless of gender, justice and peaceful co-existence as an outgrowth of religious faith:
“A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.”
Pope Francis thus spoke to an America accustomed to great respect for freedom and then turned to the refugee crisis. He invokes Christ´s “Golden Rule” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12) yet also admits that many decisions undertaken to help with this humanitarian crisis will neither be simple nor easy:
“Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions.”
Common sense demands tough decisions and thus would dictate that the current recession give pause to the willingness of the US (where millions of refugees from South of the border have recently flooded northward) to accept more refugees or Europe to do likewise as it has already received millions in the past 40 years and is dealing with the enormous challenges that this fact entails. While urging us not to be scandalized by the vast number of refugees the Pontiff does accept that America must do only what it reasonably can given the enormity of the crisis:
“We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation”
The refugee crisis is a major point of departure for President Barack Obama to finish his presidency on a positive note both for those at home and for those abroad who welcomed his presidency with immense hope. America must re-assess with frankness the causes of this unfolding humanitarian drama. Turkey-a NATO ally for decades- has been both implicated in the rise and success of ISIS and for enabling this tidal wave of desperate humanity to both advance to Europe´s borders and put their social welfare systems at the breaking point and also jeopardize the entire NATO alliance. The governments of the Middle East have just cause to ask Washington when it will confront Turkey whose actions have virtually invited Russia to intervene in Syria to prop up Bashar Al Assad thanks in part to Turkey´s proven support of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Turkey´s contribution to the destruction of Iraqi governing authority as well as to Kurdish aspirations of autonomy all add up to a de facto invitation to Iran to move into the void that is Iraq and Syria today is a task that must be made manifest by John Kerry´s diplomatic staff. Turkey may have long term aims to resurrect the Ottoman Caliphate but it does so at the expense of fellow Sunnis in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and across the Mid East who have seen their unique roles, governance and stability threatened by the Islamic State. Turkey should reflect hard on the Popes words to the U.S. Congress and follow the Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12). Is Turkey acting in unity with Sunni partners or to their profound detriment and even collapse?
Finally the US can either choose to let Russia and Iran fill the vacuum in the Middle East or the US can restore its decade long commitment and boost its footprint in the region. The US can either enable a strengthening of a Russian, Syrian and Iranian alliance or renew its own relevance in the Mid East. Will the US rise to the challenge of leadership and form and coordinate a multi-faceted alliance of countries with elite military assets to address the ISIS threat-which has precipitated this crisis-through air, land, sea and on cyber commands until it is defeated? Bill Clinton triumphed through concerted use of American force in the Balkans in the 1990´s and President Obama can follow through on commitments and steal the show from Russia as it emerges as a political savior in the Mid east and probably longs to do the same for Europe looking eastward to Moscow for support with millions of refugees from the Mid East streaming through its gates.
The time for America to re-initiate conversations with traditional Mid East regional partners in dialogue about common problems is now more paramount than ever before. Difficult decisions are indeed called for as the Pope has stated and also serious questions must be asked. Among these is how realistic is it for our wealthier Mid East partners to expect Western Europe, the United States, Canada, Oceania and other Western nations to take upwards of millions of refugees when their economies are suffering from recession while Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States refuse to take any? Tiny Lebanon´s fragile social harmony as well as Jordan´s have been permanently jeopardized by refugee counts that go way beyond the 800,000 refugees that even Germany with its large population of 80 million and a land mass of 357,000 sq Km was slated to welcome but now sees as impossible to receive. Another question for those from the Islamic State reading NEC-SE, and other countries experiencing a drain due to citizens leaving their countries in high numbers-Why are so many people leaving lands under your administration? Why also do relatively well run and harmonious countries like Lebanon and Jordan not have refugees escaping to Europe? Why do ISIS fighters want to go home and wage war and retain French lawyers because they have been cheated by the Islamic State? http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/jihad-isnt-all-its-cracked-up-to-be-say-disgruntled-isis-recruits-9896629.html
The world must face a final irony that on this very date in history that the Pope spoke to the US Congress, Israel gave the Mid East the sober example of how to handle humanitarian crises when on Sept. 24th, 1950 it carried out- “Operation Magic Carpet” that took all Jews from Yemen to Israel. Is this not a time for realistic solutions? President Obama can and should confront Turkey but also must question why wealthy Gulf States and Saudi Arabia wont assume their responsibility at this moment and show solidarity with the refugees and carry out a similar airlift operation to re-settle brother and sister Muslims in need who currently are being shunned and plagued by huge rejection, danger and uncertainty at Western European borders? A last question must also be faced-is this true immigration predicated on respect for and an intent to adapt to destination nations and countries in transit or is it a de facto invasion and an act of cultural aggression against stable democracies noted for their proven record of humanitarian commitment toward those in need? NEC-SE 24 SEP 15