By PEGGY NOONAN
When something like this happens and the world knows and does not respond, you won’t get less of it in the future, you’ll get more. And the weapons will not only be chemical.
So the question: What to do?
After 10 days of debate in Europe and America, the wisest words on a path forward have come from the Pope. Francis wrote this week to Vladimir Putin, as the host of the G-20. He damned “the senseless massacre” unfolding in Syria and pleaded with the leaders gathered in St. Petersburg not to “remain indifferent”—remain—to the “dramatic situation.” He asked the governments of the world “to do everything possible to assure humanitarian assistance” within and without Syria’s borders.
But, he said, a “military solution” is a “futile pursuit.”
And he is right. The only strong response is not a military response.
The world must think—and speak—with stature and seriousness, of the moment we’re in and the darkness on the other side of the door. It must rebuke those who used the weapons, condemn their use, and shun the users. It must do more, in concert—surely we can agree on this—to help Syria’s refugees. It must stand up for civilization.
But a military strike is not the way, and not the way for America.
Francis was speaking, as popes do, on the moral aspects of the situation. In America, practical and political aspects have emerged, and they are pretty clear.
The American people do not support military action. A Reuters-Ipsos poll had support for military action at 20%, Pew at 29%. Members of Congress have been struck, in some cases shocked, by the depth of opposition from their constituents. A great nation cannot go to war—and that’s what a strike on Syria, a sovereign nation, is, an act of war—without some rough unity as to the rightness of the decision. Widespread public opposition is in itself reason not to go forward.
Can the president change minds? Yes, and he’ll try. But it hasn’t worked so far. This thing has jelled earlier than anyone thought. More on that further down.
What are the American people thinking? Probably some variation of: Wrong time, wrong place, wrong plan, wrong man.
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