Pope Francis’ address to the United Nations on Friday engaged robustly with world politics. He presented a carefully reasoned, systematic philosophy of peace, conflict, and the environment, driven by a few central principles such as multilateralism, reasoned faith, and care for human life. This philosophy drove him to support the Iran deal and to take the stance of a climate hawk. On virtually every issue, he came down against the key talking points of the Republican presidential candidates, who had counted on culturally conservative Catholics to support their belligerence toward Iran and their climate-change denial.
The Republican candidates universally proclaim themselves “pro-life,” as does the pope. But if life is sacrosanct, then surely war should be avoided, too, and assassinations and capital punishment should be banned. With the exception of Rand Paul, the GOP field for the most part strongly supported George W. Bush’s unilateral and unprovoked attack on Iraq, which has left hundreds of thousands dead, millions displaced, and the region in turmoil. It is hard not to hear a critique of that war of aggression in the pope’s pronouncement that “hard evidence is not lacking of the negative effects of military and political interventions which are not coordinated between members of the international community.”
Worse, the Republican candidates seem positively eager for another such war, this time with Iran. Ted Cruz, even as Francis was speaking at the UN, was rattling sabers and announcing his intention to murder Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Even the more soft-spoken Jeb Bush spoke of wanting a “better deal” with Iran, and then went on revealingly to say that the United States had gotten a “pretty good deal” with regard to Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein (executed by US-backed Shiites). Pope Francis is not even in the same universe with these candidates except on the narrow issue of abortion, which most of the Republicans only oppose to attract Catholic and evangelical votes (this point is obvious in the cases of Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina).
Pope Francis framed his support for the UN Security Council’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran precisely in anti-war terms. He grounded the search for peace, moreover, in the rule of law. The pontiff observed, “there is a need to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation and arbitration, as proposed by the Charter of the United Nations, which constitutes truly a fundamental juridical norm.”
The pontiff praised the multilateral, law-based activities of the United Nations, which he called “necessary” for all its shortcomings, insisting, “All these achievements are lights which help to dispel the darkness of the disorder caused by unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness” [emphasis mine]. Unrestrained ambitions and collective selfishness have been amply on display in the circus of the US political campaign season. Donald Trump has whipped up a dangerous anti-immigrant fervor, and the candidates are outbidding each other in criticisms of President Obama for not having been more warlike. All of the Republican candidates have pledged to undo the careful UN Security Council negotiations that led to the Iran deal.