CAMPAIGN 2008: Jaw, jaw, war, war

Winston Churchill, master of eloquent bellicosity, is also remembered for saying that “‘jaw, jaw’ is better than ‘war, war.’” As a general matter, who could disagree? If conflicts can be settled by the arts of politics and diplomacy, they should be. But are there situations when “jaw, jaw” makes things more dangerous than the plausible threat of “war, war”? Can the soft power of “jaw, jaw” change minds bent on wickedness, absent the mind-concentrating possibility of the use of hard power?

The classic cautionary tale here involves Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler. Prime Minister Chamberlain’s “jaw, jaw” with Hitler at the 1938 Munich conference wrote a death sentence for independent Czechoslovakia; when Chamberlain returned to London to proclaim “peace with honor” to the cheering throng, Sir Orme Sargent, a senior Foreign Office official, observed acidly, “You might think that we had won a major victory instead of betraying a minor country.” That betrayal—which was rooted in Chamberlain’s vane conviction that he could talk Hitler into reason and moderation—helped unleash the dogs of war, on very unfavorable terms for the defenders of civilization.

The Kennedy-Khrushchev summit of 1961 was another example of “jaw, jaw” making things worse. By Kennedy’s own (off-the-record) testimony, the Soviet dictator ran roughshod over him. Coming shortly after the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba, the Vienna summit left Kennedy worried that Khrushchev judged him a weakling—a premonition that proved warranted a year later when the Soviet Union began installing nuclear-armed ballistic missiles in Cuba, dramatically escalating the Cold War. The net result of a failed “jaw, jaw” between JFK and “Mr. K”? The Cuban Missile Crisis, and a world teetering on the brink of “one minute to midnight” (as Michael Dobbs’ new book on the drama of October 1962 puts it.)

“Jaw, jaw” was unavailing in the 1990s as Yugoslavia came apart at the seams; “jaw, jaw” has arguably made matters worse with North Korea (now a nuclear power), Zimbabwe, Sudan, and Burma. On the other hand, “jaw, jaw” prevented a bloody little war between Argentina and Chile in the late 1970s; “jaw, jaw” broke the political-military logjam between Egypt and Israel and led to the first Arab-Israeli peace treaty; and “jaw, jaw” may just have taken hold in the embryonic political institutions of Iraq, making something approaching responsible and responsive government possible there.

In the presidential campaign, the question of whether “jaw, jaw” is always better than “war, war” will likely focus on Iran. For six years, the world has known about Iran’s secret nuclear programs. American and European diplomacy has failed to get Iran to come clean on what it’s really up. The U.N. has proven less-than-useless; the organization’s chief nuclear inspector, Mohamed El Baradei, is usually dismissive of western security concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. Last December’s U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, which claimed that Iran had stopped pursuing the weaponization of nuclear technology shortly after Saddam Hussein fell, is of cold comfort when you realize that building the bomb itself is relatively easy; what the Iranians have been concentrating on in recent years is the hard part—creating sufficient quantities of weapons-grade plutonium.

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls Israel a “stinking corpse” and pledges to wipe it off the map; he’s made similar threats against the U.S. and Great Britain. Ahmadinejad’s political fevers, and those of the mullahs who hold ultimate authority in Iran, involve apocalyptic speculations: as they understand Shi’a eschatology, vaporizing Jerusalem will hasten the messianic age. Is Ahmadinejad a man to whom one can talk reason? Are the mullahs?

If the Iranian nuclear program is not halted, the next president of the United States will almost certainly face the prospect of a nuclear-capable Iran that can wreak havoc in the Middle East, transfer nuclear weapons to terrorists, or, in its more subtle moments, conduct nuclear blackmail. How is “jaw, jaw” to prevent this, if Iran’s leaders imagine the West to be feckless?

That is a question of the gravest moral and strategic import. It must be discussed seriously in the weeks ahead.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash