Jewish World Review Oct. 3, 2003 / 7 Tishrei, 5764

Stratfor Intelligence Brief by
George Friedman

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Pope and dagger: John Paul II's political legacy | It is becoming clear that Pope John II is dying. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who oversees Vatican doctrine, was quoted in a magazine interview as saying that "he is in a bad way" and that "we should pray for the pope."

Such statements by someone as authoritative as Cardinal Ratzinger should not be mistaken for random comments. It represents the beginning of the process in which the Vatican prepares the world for the death of one pope and the selection of another.

The death of a pope is a religious affair of importance to Catholics. But it is also a political event, since the pope, by his nature, is a political figure as well as a religious one. In the case of this pope, his life was not only a political testament, but a study in covert operations.

Karol Wojtyla's life was inextricably bound up with this century's politics. Born a Pole, he came of age under German occupation, an occupation that was intended to reduce Poland to a vassal state. Poland then fell into the hands of the Soviet Union, which changed the ideology, but not the principle that Poland was to be subordinate to another country.

For Poland, the Church and the nation were one, and the resistance to both National Socialism and Communism centered on the Church. Wojtyla rose in the hierarchy of the Polish Church at a time when the Church first kept alive the kernel of Polish nationalism and then served as the rock on which Polish resistance to Soviet occupation rested.

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To be a priest in Poland in the 20th century meant that you were by definition a covert operative. The Communist authorities and the Soviets fully understood that the Church represented the main line of resistance to their power. They also understood that the Church could be boxed in, but not broken. More precisely, the Church could only be broken if Polish nationalism could be broken, and that the Communists never achieved.

When Lech Walesa and the shipyard workers in Gdansk began the strikes that gave rise to the movement Solidarity, it was well known that the Church stood with them. However, the Church played a complex and clever game. On one side, the Church remained officially aloof from Polish politics. On the other, individual priests used the Church's infrastructure to manage the growing resistance.

Cardinal Wojtowla's election as pope is still not fully understood from a political standpoint. It was a shock that the lineage of Italian popes was broken. It has never been clear whether the College of Cardinals who selected him understood the process that was put in motion. Pope John Paul II was not only the head of the Church, he was also, simultaneously, the soul of the Polish people — one who could not be touched.

I suspect the cardinals knew what they were doing. I also suspect that the Soviets completely understood the mortal challenge his papacy posed to their empire. It is my belief that the attempted assassination of the pope was a maneuver by Soviet intelligence to stop John Paul II before it was too late. He survived, and the Soviets didn't.

Pope John Paul II clearly collaborated with U.S. intelligence under Ronald Reagan to protect and strengthen Polish resistance to the Soviets. At a time when it was taken as obvious that the Soviet Union was an immutable reality, Reagan and the pope worked, through their own clandestine services, to destabilize first Poland, and then the rest of Eastern Europe.

Whether they believed this would lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union is unclear. What is clear is that the Soviet Union collapsed. It might have collapsed anyway, but not as thoroughly as it did. John Paul II was a master of the craft of intelligence and the fine art of covert operations. Moreover, he never once denied his role.

John Paul II reshaped the Church by essentially appointing the large majority of the College of Cardinals, with the last 31 being selected recently. More than any other pope in modern times, he has defined the political hierarchy of the Church. That means that his institution will name his successor. Given the record of John Paul II, who his successor will be is a matter of global significance.

Joseph Stalin once asked, intending to show disdain, "How many divisions does the pope have?" As Stalin's empire collapsed, the answer was, "No divisions, but one heck of a clandestine service."

Oddly, Stalin, who ruled through his security and intelligence service, missed that point. Intelligence can make up for a lack of military force. As the Soviet Union fell, it had over one hundred divisions. The pope still has none.

George Friedman is president of Strategic Forecasting, Inc., one of the world's leading global intelligence firms, providing clients with geopolitical analysis and industry and country forecasts to mitigate risk and identify opportunities. Stratfor's clients include Fortune 500 companies and major government. Comment by clicking here.


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