Stephen Kent

“We have to do something.” That instinctual desire to take action has been ingrained in the American psyche since the Colonial days.

Yes, we have to do something about the chemical weapon killings in Syria, but that something cannot be more violence.

Once again, we have the urge to resort to violence when diplomacy is far from exhausted.

President Barack Obama in late August argued for military intervention to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for a recent attack with chemical weapons that allegedly killed more than 1,400 in his nation. Obama said he would order strikes by cruise missiles to target military sites.

Obama has received little support for his proposal, including from Pope Francis, who is among many voices urging dialogue rather than weapons to solve the problem. The British parliament voted against military action against Syria. U.S. Catholic bishops called for diplomacy and religious leaders in Europe warned against intervention.

Obama then said he would take no action without the approval of Congress. Congressional leaders indicated a vote would be taken in the early weeks of September.

As with previous invasions, interventions and incursions, the calls for a peaceful resolution were seen as quaint and disregarded as a pleasantry.

Advancements in weaponry since World War II have resulted in explosives that can be delivered to a precise location, avoiding “collateral damage” (once known as killing people). Diplomacy is far from showing the same advancement.

If we’ve been able to make a drone that can hit a dinner table with a rocket, why is it not possible to devise methods in which two or more humans can negotiate a solution to their differences without killing?

A president awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (well in advance of deeds) ought to be able to do more than resort to violence.

Syria is the opportunity to take bold — even shocking — action.

In the past, presidents have made covert trips to the site of conflicts. Obama could make an unannounced trip, land in Damascus and try to work out a solution. Others could meet at The Hague, or at the Vatican, at the invitation of the pope, along with the Grand Mufti of Syria, leader of the country’s Sunni Muslims, who already expressed a desire to pray at the Vatican.

Calling for dialogue and negotiation as conflicts begin are not some form of grace to be said before the first shots are fired. It requires an acknowledgement of possibility to stop conflict.

Having issued an ultimatum — “a red line” — then not acting, is viewed by some as weak. But not answering violence with violence is not evidence of weakness, as Jesus proved many times.

Here’s a sober thought for the decision-makers that came from Pope Francis: “There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions that is inescapable,” he said. “A culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace.”

Dialogue is viewed as nice, but unworkable, if not impossible. Not so. Let’s think of one good reason why it can be done.

Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. He can be contacted at: