Dear President Obama,
As the national conference of men’s religious institutes in the Catholic Church, we invite you to take the initiative in Syria to defuse hostility and violence while increasing empathy and peacemaking. We are at a crucial moment in the ongoing conflict as a recent bill was introduced by Senator Menendez, along with some other leaders calling for direct funding of arms to the resistance movement. We can do better than this and we can become better people. We applaud you for resisting this so far and for increasing the funding for refugees another $100 million. We hope this attention to refugees and internally displaced persons will continue.
We encourage you to also take these steps:
1) Diplomatic Focus: Continue to work closely and consistently with Russia, the UN, and other key regional actors. We particularly encourage negotiations with Assad without setting preconditions for negotiations to take place, such as political prisoner releases or Assad agreeing to step down. These objectives can still occur, but there is too much death and suffering from over 1.2 million refugees, mostly women and children, to continue the status quo and to stall on negotiations. Key civil society actors, especially from the Local Coordinating Committees, Democratic Civil Alliance, and religious communities should be included in the negotiations. . If negotiations hit a road block, arming the resistance is not the way to go. There are other options as suggested below.
2) Resist the Temptation of Supplying Arms to the Resistance: Avoid making this a proxy war. Shift funding away from the armed resistance including our “communications” funding, which functions to perpetuate the armed resistance. Work with Russia to simultaneously draw down arms provisions to Assad. Call on others such as Saudi and Qatar to participate in drawing down their supply of weapons to the armed resistance. During the nonviolent phase of the resistance the death toll was in the few thousands (although violent resistance even started a couple months in), but once violence became the primary method it has rose to 80,000 at least. Increasing such violence only cultivates more habits of violence or “blowback.” The armed resistance already includes organizations such as Al Qaeda and Al Nusra, as well as methods such as rape, torture, and the use of children in war. As we saw with arming the resistance in Afghanistan in the 1980’s the habits of violence continued with the Taliban, Bin Laden, and Al Qaeda. Also, more recently we saw in Libya, the habits of violence continued with torture and militias, some of which went into Mali sparking that violence. Empirical research is clear that violent revolution not only cultivates other habits of violence and is less effective in achieving short-term political goals, but very rarely leads to a durable democracy.
3) Build Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping Capacity: Work with Syrian civil society and offer experts as needed in monitoring and accompaniment to train Syrians and other international actors in the core practices of nonpartisan, unarmed civilian peacekeeping grounded in a philosophy of nonviolence. These peace teams can offer protective presence in various locations, such as refugee camps, schools, religious communities, and other key civilian or “peace” zones. The capacity should be built to at least 800-1000 persons if not more. There are many examples of this growing field of expertise and effectiveness in violent conflict zones, such as the Nonviolent Peaceforce in the Philippines and South Sudan, or Peace Brigades International in Latin America.
4) Restorative Justice Practices: According to many Syrian activists at recent gatherings near Syria and in DC, one of the major roadblocks to a unified and effective civilian resistance to Assad is the struggle to cultivate a trust within the civilian resistance. We ask that you support and provide resources for implementing small-scale restorative justice practices now to attend to key social wounds, toward stimulating initial levels of healing and transforming the interactions of hostility. Some of these wounds include distrust, fear, bitterness and vengefulness. Restorative practices could include family conferencing, peacemaking circles for larger communities, including relatives of security forces if not members of such forces themselves. They can take place outside of Syria, in refugee camps, and perhaps to some degree within Syria. There may be local versions of restorative practices that could be highlighted and encouraged. Supporting local civil society members in facilitating these practices may be best. These small-scale efforts today would provide the groundwork for larger-scale efforts later after the violence subsides.
5) Training in Nonviolent Resistance Strategies: As trust is cultivated, embolden the groups that remain committed to nonviolent resistance such as some of the Local Coordinating Committees and the Democratic Civil Alliance. Support, provide financial resources, and offer expert training from people, such as Srdja Popovic who helped to lead the Otpor movement in Serbia, to empower and expand the strategic use of nonviolent resistance. South Africa offers an excellent example of a resistance movement that began primarily nonviolent and like Syria shifted to primarily violent tactics, but then returned to a primarily nonviolent strategy in the 1980’s. Once this occurred they got more international support, more participation particularly from Churches, and not only ended Apartheid but offered one of the best models of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission so far. Also, recent research demonstrates that nonviolent resistance movements are not only twice as effective as violent revolutions, but also lead to durable democracies about ten times more often (57% to 6%). This is a striking reality if we are seriously committed to democratic reform.
We hope you will consider these seriously, ask us or others further questions to explore the possibilities, and gather the courage to live out more transformative forms of engaging conflict. You’re in our prayers.
Eli S. McCarthy PhD
Director of Justice and Peace
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
 A member of the Democratic Civil Alliance claims that the “militarization of the resistance occurred in part as a response to the unwanted role of women in the resistance.”
 Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, “Why Civilian Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict,” Columbia University Press, 2011. Maria now works in the US Dept. of State’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization.
 Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, “Why Civilian Resistance Works.”