Jewish World Review March 17, 2006/ 17 Adar, 5766

Wesley Pruden

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When a carrot stings like a stick | President Bush promised yesterday to substitute a nice carrot for the big stick he's using on Islamist jihadists in Iraq, but the Iranians and thugs elsewhere shouldn't get any big ideas. If they don't shape up he'll hit 'em with the carrot.

That's the gist of the new national security report, 49 pages of argle-bargle updated from argle-bargle of 2002. From now on diplomacy will be the "weapon" of preference in dealing with the spread of nuclear and other super-dreadful weapons to the world's thugs.

Uh, except when it's not.

"If necessary," the paper, written in the president's name, continues: "Under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur — even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack."

The earlier strategy paper, written after the September 11 assault on America when for a brief time nobody harbored naive illusions about the people who want to kill us if they can't convert us, the president warned that he had adopted a strategy of pre-emption that, separated from diplomatic mush, is this: "We're not going to wait until you pull a Pearl Harbor — we'll clobber you first."

Scripting such argle-bargle, saying the obvious in the most obvious way, is what national-security diplomats do, of course, and the point of the exercise is to reassure everybody here and make sure that troublemakers elsewhere understand that nothing has changed.

The president has hit a particularly bad patch lately. The war in Iraq continues, as all wars do, to show good days and bad, and with the bad memories of government bungling of Katrina relief as vivid as ever, it's a good time to quiet the mumbling among the restless natives, and to make sure that certain hardheads abroad understand that a big carrot properly applied to a hard head can sting like a stick.

Big-stick talk is reassuring most to the president's friends at home, as a new Gallup Poll, out yesterday, makes clear. Americans who go to church regularly and frequently support the aims of the war in Iraq more than those who sleep through Sunday morning, either abed or lost in the acres of empty pews in the churches of the mainline denominations, so called. The most reliable support for the war's aims is found among ordinary Roman Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Southern Baptists and other evangelicals, sentiment typically expressed in a resolution adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2003: "Our choice is to pay less now and deal with this problem, or we can pay a lot more later."

The most vigorous religious opposition to "unilateral strikes" at Iraqi insurgents is found among the World Council of Churches (which generally opposes everything ordinary Americans believe in), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and bells-and-smells Episcopalians. These are generally the churches where finding a place to sit on Sunday morning is not a problem. Gallup found, in fact, that the more often a churchgoer attends services, the likelier he is to understand the stakes in the war against Islamist jihad.

And why not? Regular churchgoers are the true believers, and true believers understand religious belief, even the religious belief with which they vigorously disagree. A high-church Episcopalian, a country-club Presbyterian or an Easter Sunday-only Methodist, for whom a church is mostly a convenient place for a wedding or a funeral, finds it hard to imagine that an Islamist radical actually believes "all that stuff." With a little diplomacy, maybe holding hands to sing "Kumbaya" on diversity Sunday, jihad will go away, like a bad dream. ("Kumbaya," good. Guns, bad.)

The president's new strategy paper reflects the familiar sentiment of his churchgoing friends: "When the consequences of an attack with weapons of mass destruction are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize. ... The place of pre-emption in our national security strategy remains the same."

There was something for the "Kumbaya" constituency, too: "The diplomatic effort must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided." Duh. But the message to Iran is clear enough. We're keeping our powder dry.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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