“To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.” That quote is attributed to Winston Churchill. Fifty years after his death, rational people still value Churchill’s insights, because they are full of wisdom. This quote is one example of his wisdom.
It’s better if nations can solve, or at least soften, their differences with words instead of bombs. But, in order to do that, presidents and kings and prime ministers and dictators have to be able to “jaw-jaw” effectively. The impeachment freak show the Democrats have started in Washington threatens President Trump’s ability to speak freely and honestly with world leaders. That could reduce his ability to defuse crises and deter armed conflicts…and that would make “war-war” more likely.
“The Kremlin said Friday that it hoped the White House would not release confidential details of phone calls between President Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin,” wrote the New York Post on September 27th. “Asked if Moscow is concerned that transcripts of Trump’s calls with Putin might be published, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said ‘we would like to hope that it wouldn’t come to that in our relations, which are already troubled by a lot of problems.’”
Vladimir Putin is a dictator. He’s also not stupid. And, he can disrupt life on the European continent. (Just ask the Ukranians). Dictators aren’t swayed easily by pressure from opposition political parties, or media criticism, or celebrity protesters. (Picture Greta Thunberg scolding Vladimir Putin. Putin would laugh in her face.) They don’t debate or reason with people they dislike; they jail or shoot them.
Dictators only respond to people who have the power to hurt them. They only listen to presidents or kings or prime ministers who command the same amount of force—or more—that they have. On planet Earth, there is only one nation strong enough to confront, and most likely defeat, the Russians: the U.S. That makes Vladimir Putin much more likely to listen, meaningfully, to Donald Trump. The activists Thunberg leads can only irritate Putin; the military Trump commands could possibly beat him. And Putin knows it. So does Kim Jong Un, whose missiles threaten South Korea and Japan. So does China.
No rational person sees the U.S. conquering Russia, North Korea or China anytime soon. And, those regimes won’t magically turn peaceful and non-threatening overnight. We have to live side-by-side with them; the world is a small place. (Especially if your neighbors have ICBMs). So, that means we need to deal with those nations as they are, not how we wish they would be. We must deal with the leaders they have, not the ones we wished they had. We all wish Russia’s leader, or North Korea’s or China’s, was freely elected, with no hint of corruption. But, that didn’t happen, did it?
Dictators have no problem saying one thing in public, and something totally different in private. What kind of rapport could President Trump build with Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping, if the Russians or Chinese worried that their private comments from a Monday telephone call would be on Buzzfeed’s website by Tuesday night? Or read aloud by a zealous, thoughtless Congressman/woman? Yes, it’s distasteful to think of an American president building a relationship with a despot. But a missile strike is much more distasteful.
A French Army cannon, cast in the 1800s, had this inscription on its barrel: “The Last Argument of Kings.” If the world’s kings, its most powerful leaders, can’t talk with each other effectively, it more likely they’ll misunderstand each other, and won’t trust each other. Then, “war-war” becomes much more likely.