Thursday, October 23, 2003


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A Look at Articles on Christian Zionism Devolves Into a Rant on Developing a Foreign Policy for Liberals

Donald Wagner, "professor of religion and Middle Eastern studies at North Park University in Chicago and executive director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies," wrote a five-part series on Christian Zionism for The Daily Star, an English-language Lebanese newspaper.

Here's part one (Christians and Zion: British stirrings), part two (Christian Zionists and the "second coming'), part three (Bible and sword: US Christian Zionists discover Israel), part four (The interregnum: Christian Zionism in the Clinton years), and part five (A heavenly match: Bush and the Christian Zionists).


Wagner defines Christian Zionism briefly as "a movement within Protestant fundamentalism that sees the modern state of Israel as the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and thus deserving of political, financial and religious support." It seems to appeal to the same sorts who try to find meaning in the prophecies of Nostradamus.


In terms of American politics, Wagner claims that the the U.S. increasingly backed Israel as a cold-war client-state after the Iranian revolution. Also, the "pro-Israel lobby" turned to conservative Christian groups because of "a more balanced approach to the Middle East" by the Roman Catholic Church and mainline Protestants. Wagner credits it with shifting evangelical Christian support away from Jimmy Carter and towards the Republicans, leading to Ronald Reagan's victory in 1980. Finally, Wagner places Christian Zionism as part of a six-group coalition of interest groups that includes the right wing of the Republican Party, neoconservatives, the construction and petroleum industries including firms such as Haliburton, the arms industry (shades of the military-industrial complex), and the pro-Israel lobby (which is not confined to Judaism).


Now, I really don't expect a staunchly pro-Israel opinion piece to appear in a Beirut newspaper, so it is unsurprising that Wagner weaves a tale that includes Israel manipulating evangelical Christians.


My reaction: so what? Oh, wow, some people are trying to get other people to agree with them. This has happened many times in history. The British spent a lot of effort trying to bring the U.S. into World War II. It's even been said that British intelligence rigged the 1940 Republican Convention so that Wendall Wilkie would be nominated and they'd get a president who would eventually enter the war no matter what. Heck, my general thesis regarding Republican internal politics has been that the hard right and the neocons manipulate the religious right without feeding them more than political crumbs. George W. Bush ain't a true religious conservative and you won't see one of those winning the Republican presidential nomination anymore than you will see Dennis Kucinich be the 2004 Democratic standard bearer.


Here's my view of foreign policy. The Republicans like to tear down anyone and anything they don't like and build anew. If possible, they like to go in shooting with a full frontal assault; it's good for morale and good for business. They've been watching too many John Wayne movies; they crave for a final showdown between good and evil. If that's not possible, their preferred method of getting rid of a political opponent is sponsoring a coup. Even with Iraq, the suggestion was that war could be avoided with a single bullet if someone rose up internally.


I am not an isolationist and I am not a pacifist; I abhor both those positions. I think the U.S. should be involved in the world, but I think it should take a page from the playbooks of the Brits and Israelis, who have learned to make do with less resources. Rather than one American foreign policy to rule them all and in the darkness bind them, I would like to see my country try its hand at manipulating democracy.


Of course, that means that democracy needs to actually exist in some form, not necessarily perfect form. Which brings us to nation-building in Iraq and, potentially, other Arab states at a future date. I don't expect a Western-style democracy to spring from the heads of Iraqi forefathers like Athena. I expect a flawed democracy, in the same way that the U.S. Constitution originally provided for slavery. I expect an democracy that is at least as Islamic as an Israeli democracy is Jewish. I'm willing to go along with suffrage granted to a less than ideal extent. And if you think that means that I am (temporarily) selling out Iraqi women, well then, yes I am.


Howard Dean wants universal health care in the U.S. His plan? First give people some access to what is admittedly a flawed system, then when everyone has a vested interest in the system, try to improve the system. The Bush plan in Iraq is the foreign policy equivalent of the Clinton health-care plan in its unwieldy impossibilities.


Ideally, the White House would like to see a fully-formed, mature Iraqi democracy, hopefully in time to showcase for the 2004 elections (and I think that last thought drove the timing but not the perceived necessity of war). By mature, I mean secular at least on a lip-service level, pro-business (especially pro-Haliburton), pro-Israel, and a solid American ally on the "war on terror" and anything else that might pop up, willing to give the U.S. access to air bases and staging grounds for troops as necessary.


Instead, I'm willing to see an Iraqi democracy that elects Islamicists, those who hate America, those who hate Israel, a bunch of (alleged) ingrates who aren't thankful that Saddam is gone. So long as they stay a democracy with at least some tolerance of dissent, I'll be satisfied.


The principle we want to uphold internationally is authentic democracy. By "authentic," I refer to acquisition of democracy by following legal forms in such a way that the hoi polloi exhibit ownership of the process. The Bush administration sought to go war in a way that I believe was specifically intended to wreck the United Nations' credibility (if it has any). While the U.N. is not quite a democracy, it does exhibit some democratic traits and invalidating the U.N. sets a bad example if one's aim is to foster democracy.


It feels as if the current occupation in Iraq is heading towards an inauthentic form of democracy. The neocon perspective probably feels that the war will have been all for naught if the end result isn't an Iraq that is a staunch American ally (read: Chalabi). If there is to be an authentic democracy, the voices of those who dislike America must be heeded, no matter how wrong they may be.


The invasion is over and done with. Whatever the left may feel about how the war should not have even started (at least not yet), it has to address the question of what now. Pulling out willy-nilly and abandoning Iraq, as Dennis Kucinich wants, is wrong. We as a nation have a moral obligation to clean up whatever messes we may have created in Iraq even if we didn't support making the mess in the first place.


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