There was a campaign during World War II with the theme “Loose lips sink ships.” The point was that unguarded comments might give away intelligence to the enemy enabling U-Boats to target trans-Atlantic crossings. It became a bit of an Anglo-American proverb, a reminder that careless talk is costly.
It’s a proverb that Joe Biden would do well to take to heart. This week, he talked in apocalyptic terms of Russia pushing the threat of Armageddon closer than it has been at any point since the Cuban Missile crisis. This goes against the kind of approach I recommend here. My view is that Putin’s primary threat to the West and increasingly to Ukraine is that of the terrorist. He is less and less capable of achieving his aims by conventional military methods so instead his strategic is to stoke up fear, uncertainty and chaos. He may not be able to invade and occupy other countries but this fear and anxiety can cripple them. That’s why I argued that the media should not do Putin’s job for him. The same goes for Presidents, even when, especially when they aspire to be the leader of the free-world.
The old adage “carry a big stick and talk softly” applies here is President Biden is searching for further mottos to live by. I understand that US intelligence personnel have been working hard at making clear to their counterparts in Russia what the consequences of a nuclear strike would be. I would assume that this would include everything from severe economic sanctions to the ability to completely wipe out the Russian military. Putin may be in a state of mind where he doesn’t care about the absolute annihilation of his armed forces but his generals might and this will give them cause to consider both refusing to comply with his orders and even moving to overthrow him.
Beyond that I believe that firm but de-escalatory language is best. Make it clear in communications that we consider Putin primarily to be a danger to his own people and a fool as much as a tyrant. Again, put the onus on the Russian people to deal with their own problem. Incidentally, this also requires reassurances to Russia that the West would not take advantage of instability in Russia to pursue their agenda. For example, it might be helpful to indicate a moratorium on new NATO members during an interim period and that the removal of Vladimir would enable a ceasefire in Ukraine.
Of course, it is easy for us to sit here and criticise the US president for his unguarded comments. However, this should remind us that what is true at international diplomacy level is true in the church as well. We should be alert to the danger of gossip, slander, breach of confidentiality, course language, intemperate talk.
3 Dear brothers and sisters,[a] not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.
3 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. 4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. 5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.
But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. 6 And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.[b]
7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! 11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? 12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.[c]