GATES — The United States should not attack Iran even if it continues to pursue its nuclear ambitions, according to Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, editor of the national Jesuit weekly magazine, America.
Father Christiansen, who has served as an international-affairs counselor for the U.S. bishops, spoke his mind on several topics during a wide-ranging interview May 12. He was slated to speak later that day to graduates of St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, during the school’s commencement ceremony at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Based in New York City, America is known for its in-depth analysis of national and international issues in the Catholic Church and in society. The magazine maintains a Web site at www.americamagazine.org.
Editor of America since 2005, Father Christiansen is also co-author of the 2004 book Forgiveness in International Politics: An Alternative Road to Peace. A proponent of dialogue between nations, he said the United States is overly concerned with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and argued for more dialogue and less saber-rattling by the United States.
“In a nuclear age, there’s really no choice,” Father Christiansen said. “The notion that nuclear weapons are usable is appalling.”
Negotiations can work, he said, pointing out that the 1975 Helsinki Agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union set in motion various forces that eventually helped to topple the communist regime.
“I don’t think if (the Iranians) want a bomb they can be stopped,” the priest added. He noted that military experts have told him an attack on Iranian underground nuclear facilities might not succeed, and would also elicit a tremendous negative reaction from the Muslim world.
He cautioned, however, that the United States might take military action regardless of the risks involved.
“My (military) contacts say that the saber-rattling on the part of the U.S. is pretty serious, which makes me nervous when you consider the mess in Iraq,” he said.
On that note, Father Christiansen said he had opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but believes “there’s so much water under the bridge, I don’t think that we can go back.” He added that the United States should be focusing more attention on its ally, Pakistan, which has been involved in nuclear proliferation and whose intelligence services have been linked to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Father Christiansen was also highly critical of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield for his handling of the Iraq War, asserting, for example, that Rumsfield didn’t send in enough troops to secure Iraq after the invasion. He said he considers Rumsfield a bright man, but added that the Secretary of Defense’s fixed convictions prevent him from learning from his mistakes.
Father Christiansen added that he believes Republican Sen. John McCain would be a good replacement for Rumsfield, noting that McCain supported an amendment banning torture of foreign detainees in U.S. custody and also was active in repairing U.S. relations with Vietnam, even though he personally had been tortured by communist captors during the Vietnam War.
“He’s a guy who can not only take on issues, but change from his prior positions,” Father Christiansen said.
Father Christiansen also addressed the controversy surrounding the departure from America of Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, whom Father Christiansen succeeded as editor. In May 2005, Father Reese resigned the editorship, following years of challenges from critics — among them Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who just a month before Father Reese’s resignation had been elected Pope Benedict XVI — over the magazine’s editorial policies. Among other things, Father Reese reportedly came under fire for left-leaning editorials and for publishing articles that gave too much weight to those who dissented from church teachings and official positions.
Noting that his own expertise is in such areas as the Holy Land, the environment, and war and peace, Father Christiansen said he brings a different editorial vision to the magazine.
“I’m not going to be a pundit about church affairs,” he said. “Basically, I come from a place where the church meets the world. I want American Catholics to know more about the church worldwide.”
On that note, he said he edits his magazine for the “educated Catholic.”
“It should not be just about church issues, but about issues affecting society, issues affecting culture,” he said.