Thursday, April 19, 2007

II. Building Alliances: How the Christian Right Came to Be a Player in Foreign Affairs

Here is the next installment of the paper The Evangelical Roots of American Unilateralism: The Christian Right's Influence and How to Counter It , written By Duane Oldfield.

In this today's posting, Oldfield states three factors that contributed to the rise of the Christian Right in politics. The first one that Oldfield states is A Sympathetic President, namely President G. W. Bush.

There is a comment within this section that refers to Bush having missed a 'Bible Study'.

Let's clarify that just because someone is a Christian and studies the Bible does not make them part of the evil powerful group influencing the government that Oldfield is referring to. Many times we tend to lump all kinds of a groups of people into a category based on the sins of a few. I know many Christians that also have a very progressive view of the world, who are Left-Wing Democrats. They are not only very respectable people, but also very enlightened Spiritual people.

I don't feel that Oldfield is trying to pigeonhole, rather, socieity tends to pigeonhole all groups.

II. Building Alliances: How the Christian Right Came to Be a Player in Foreign Affairs

Although the Christian right's unilateralism is not new, its proximity to power is. Three developments have helped make the Christian right a significant player in U.S. foreign policy: the election of a president with close ties to the movement, the growth of the Christian right's grassroots organizational strength, and the development of an alliance with neoconservatives, who have come to play a crucial role in the present administration.

A. A Sympathetic President

The Christian right played a supporting role in the Reagan administration's war on Central America, particularly in funneling aid to the Nicaraguan contras (Diamond, 1989, chaps. 5 and 6). However, its activism in the 1980s was primarily on the domestic front. The administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton provided few opportunities for Christian right influence, at least at the presidential level. A committed multilateralist, Bush Sr. set off alarm bells in the Christian right with his talk of a “new world order.” For many elements of the Christian right, that phrase tapped into a long history of right-wing demonology, symbolizing a world government--perhaps Satanically inspired--threatening American sovereignty. 10 And antagonism toward Bill Clinton was even stronger. Demonized by a Christian right that vigorously fought to have him impeached, Clinton had little incentive to grant its leaders access to foreign policy decisionmaking.

The disputed election of George W. Bush provided the Christian right with a far more sympathetic president. Bush's personal history helps cement his ties to the movement. Although his father was clearly uncomfortable with the movement's style of mixing religion and politics, the current president, saved from the sin of alcoholism by his own born-again experience, has long understood the nuances of the Christian right's religious constituency and speaks its language. Recognizing this back in 1988, Bush Sr. gave his son the task of reaching out to that constituency for him in his presidential campaign. Campaign aide Doug Wead worked with George W. Bush as part of an effective effort to woo evangelical leaders. 11 George W. Bush's White House reflects its occupant's comfort with evangelicalism. The first words heard by Bush speechwriter David Frum when he arrived at the White House were “missed you at Bible study” (see Frum).

B. A Grassroots Network

The personal inclinations of the current president are reenforced by the development of the Christian right's grassroots electoral capabilities. Prior to Pat Robertson's 1988 presidential campaign, the Christian right had very limited experience with precinct organizing. Robertson's nomination campaign failed in its immediate objective, but it laid the groundwork for the emergence of the Christian Coalition. That coalition's grassroots network, in turn, played a significant role in the Republican congressional victories of 1994. In the run-ups to the 1996 and 2000 campaigns, the Christian Coalition's annual convention became a required stop for GOP presidential aspirants. Early on, George W. Bush hired former Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed as a consultant for his nomination campaign. After Bush lost the New Hampshire primary, strong support from the Christian Right, especially in South Carolina, helped him beat back a serious challenge from Senator John McCain.

With the Christian right now a central part of the Republican electoral coalition, presidents of that party must take the constituency's concerns into account. And the change goes even deeper than that. When Christian right activists entered party politics during the Robertson campaign in the late 1980s, the distinction between these activists and established Republicans was clear. For many party regulars, the Robertson activists were alien interlopers who had somehow descended on the party. In the words of the president's brother Neil Bush, they were “cockroaches” issuing “from the baseboards of the Bible-belt.” 12 Though tension between the Christian right and other party factions continues, the Christian Right is now an established component, and in some areas even a dominant feature, of the party coalition. John Green provides an insightful analysis of the evolution of the “collective identity” of the Christian right: from sectarian religious identities in the early 1980s to a pro-family identity that helped unite Christian right members across religious lines to the current era of “evangelical Republicans,” in which partisanship is central to movement identity. Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition and now chair of the Georgia Republican Party, exemplifies this trend. As Christian rightists become party activists, Christian right organizations may suffer, as the Christian Coalition has since Reed's departure, but their influence within the party grows. In a Republican Party dominated by conservative Southerners such as George W. Bush, Tom Delay, and Dick Armey, Christian right activists are no longer interlopers; they are insiders.

C. Neoconservative Ties

Finally, the Christian right's access to power has been greatly aided by the ties it has developed with neoconservatives influential within the present administration. Neoconservative intellectuals, many of them Jewish, may seem unlikely allies for the Christian right, but this partnership has developed across several issue areas. The most important basis for this partnership is a common support for Israel or, to put it more accurately, for the Likud Party's vision of Israel's interests. The Christian right's support for Israel harks back to the movement's beginnings in the late 1970s, but it has risen to a higher level in the last few years. The 2002 annual convention of the Christian Coalition culminated in a rally for Israel, and Ralph Reed and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein recently founded a new group, Stand for Israel. Meanwhile, throughout Christian right media, criticism of the Palestinians and support for hard-line Israeli policies has grown more intense.

The Christian right's support for Israel is closely interrelated with prophetic concerns discussed earlier in this essay. In the words of Christian right author John Hagee: “Israel is the only nation created by a sovereign act of God, and He has sworn by His holiness to defend Jerusalem, His Holy City. If God created and defends Israel, those nations that fight against it fight against God.” 13 At a recent Christian Coalition gathering, a speaker even suggested that the September 11th attacks were God's punishment for America's insufficient support of Israel (Arab News, 2003).

Links with neoconservatives have also been forged around the issue of religious persecution. Michael Horowitz, a neoconservative senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, and Nina Shea of the Puebla Institute, were instrumental in mobilizing evangelicals around the issue of religious persecution. 14 Elliott Abrams, then head of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote extensively supporting the cause and, along with Nina Shea, was later appointed to the commission created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, eventually serving as its chair. 15 Abrams has moved on to human rights and Middle East policy positions at the National Security Council.

In 1997, when the Project for the New American Century was born, it united conservative leaders around a call for a much more aggressive U.S. foreign policy (including forceful action against Iraq's Saddam Hussein). The group's Statement of Principles declared: “Such a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the United States is to build on the successes of this past century and to ensure our security and greatness in the next.” Among the 25 signatories were leading neoconservatives and future players in the Bush administration including Elliott Abrams, Dick Cheney, Frank Gaffney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. Also on the list were Gary Bauer, long-time head of the Family Research Council, and author William Bennett. 16

A sympathetic president, grassroots electoral strength, and ties to influential neoconservatives have given the Christian right influence in American foreign policy, providing support for a militant unilateralism and unwavering backing for Israel . The Christian right has been rewarded with appointments on delegations to UN conferences and supportive administration action on its international social agenda (see Butler), and it has been heartened by the president's use of religious language to justify his policies. The religious right does not dominate foreign policymaking in the current administration; for example, it lacks key posts at the State and Defense departments. However, the Christian right has provided powerful grassroots support for the unilateralist forces that currently dominate American foreign policy.


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