On Thursday of this week, the Kosher Hedgehog participated in a bloggers' conference call, sponsored by One Jerusalem, with John O'Sullivan, the author of the recently published book, The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister, which focuses on the concurrent careers of President Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and the respective roles that each of these conservative heroes played in ending Soviet Communism and liberating Eastern Europe from the imperial Soviet yoke. As described by One Jerusalem, Mr. O'Sullivan is one of the leading public affairs analysts of our day. Along with serving Prime Minister Thatcher, he has been an important influence on the American Conservative movement as editor of National Review and the Public Interest. The entire conference call (including the clarion voice of the Kosher Hedgehog as he asks Mr. O'Sullivan a question) may be heard at the One Jerusalem website.
O'Sullivan made a number of observations of interest to Hedgehog readers, which I paraphrase below:
On Whether These Three Leaders Would Have Supported the Iraq War: We know that Pope John Paul II was opposed to an invasion of Iraq, because he expressed that view prior to his death. We know that Mrs. Thatcher, who is the only one of the three still living, supports the war, because she has said so publicly. Mrs. Thatcher also feels that it would never be her place, as a former Prime Minister, to criticize a war policy of Great Britain while British troops are in the field.
Mr. O'Sullivan is confident that President Reagan would have invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban after September 11. He also believes that President Reagan would have supported the invasion of Iraq. However, because President Reagan was exceedingly conservative (in a non-politicial sense) and cautious, Mr. O'Sullivan believes he would have conducted the invasion (had he been Commander-In-Chief) with many more troops and with a fully detailed and vetted post-invasion plan. Mr. O'Sullivan cited the case of the 1983 Grenada invasion, when President Reagan doubled the number of troops recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When asked why, President Reagan responded, "If President Carter had given the same order [to double the committed forces] when he attempted the rescue of the Iran hostages, he would still be sittiing in this seat."
On the 2008 Presidential Election: He believes that the American people, despite the unpopularity of the Iraq war, are still looking for a strong leader who will make them feel secure. He does not see that winning attribute in any of the serious Democratic contenders. He feels this desire for strong foreign policy leadership with an emphasis on national security and defense is the reason that Rudy Guiliani is the early GOP front runner, with John McCain in second, although fading and facing irreconciliable policy differences with most GOP voters. When the Kosher Hedgehog asked about Mitt Romney, Mr. O'Sullivan stated that he is an intellligent candidate, attractive and likeable, but perhaps a bit too corporate, too much the image of the successful business man, to win the GOP Presidential nomination. Mr. O'Sullivan believes that the rough edges to Rudy Guiliani's personality, his very prickliness, is actually a virtue that enhances an almost populist image. If Mr. Romney is to compete, he must develop a more populist image of his own, perhaps on the immigration issue, where his position is much closer to that of most Republicans.
On the Pope and Islam: According to Mr. O'Sullivan, Pope John Paul II made the same sort of ecumenical overtures to moderate Islamic leaders that he made much more successfully to Judaism, the Orthodox Churches and Protestant Christianity. However, near the end of his life, Pope John Paul II expressed disappointment in the Islamic response, which never went beyond polite letters. We now know, Mr. O'Sullivan observed, that the moderate Islamic leaders were too frightened by the potential reaction from Islamic radicals, including the threat of assassination, to respond to the Pope in a more substantive fashion.
In part based on this prior experience, Pope Benedict XVI has decided to adopt a different approach to Islam. He is still open to dialogue, but it must be a substantive discussion that reflects the issues critical to the interaction of Chrisians and Moslems in the world today. In particular he plans to challenge (as he already did in his controversial September 2006 address in Regensburg) Islam's commitment to militant expansionism and compelling belief by force. He believes that the other Western religions have transcended those characteristics in their own historical development, and that Islam must be pressed to do so as well.