Missionary Zeal

Posted January 3, 2008

Categories: Articles

Are we ready for the first missionary president? While the media debates endlessly whether America can overcome racism and sexism and finally elect an African-American commander-in-chief or a female to the White House, there’s been very little consideration of what it might mean to have a former missionary in the Oval Office. Like many Mormons, Mitt Romney did a two-year stint abroad trying to convert people to his religion. What impact would this perspective have on his foreign policy?

You might say: we’ve had a missionary in the White House for the last eight years. George W. Bush has treated the “global war on terror” as if it were a modern crusade. He even used the word “crusade” shortly after September 11, though immediately backtracked from the formulation. As I write in Spreading the Word, there is also a deep strain of missionary fervor in U.S. foreign policy that goes back to the earliest imperial undertakings.

You might also say: the other Republican frontrunner, Mike Huckabee, is a missionary in spirit. He wouldn’t be the first ordained minister to become president (that honor goes to James Garfield). But he might very well evangelize from the bully pulpit of the presidency. In his Foreign Affairs essay, Huckabee was quick to emphasize the opposite: that when the United States dominates other countries “it is despised.” However, as FPIF contributor Michael Shank points out in his profile of Huckabee’s foreign policy, the candidate would preach a distinctly Christian set of values abroad.

And the Democrats? The opposition party is certainly filled with missionary zeal. To take back the White House, the Dems will do everything in their power to be as cautious and centrist as possible to achieve their goal. As part of our ongoing election year coverage, FPIF has a three-part analysis of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy. FPIF contributor Stephen Zunes describes her as Bush Lite when it comes to Iraq, military issues, and international law. Zunes also finds that John Edwards “has taken a number of foreign policy positions that have raised serious concerns among those who are desperately seeking a real alternative to the Bush administration.” Coming soon: Obama. Does he offer change or simply more of the same?

One mission that the candidates are not taking up is nuclear disarmament. “The assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the political crisis in Pakistan should put nuclear weapons back on the front burner,” writes FPIF columnist Frida Berrigan. Alas, the nuclear issue has no sex appeal for the media. Berrigan urges journalists and the public to push the candidates on this issue, rather than on haircuts or space aliens.

Speaking of missions, we achieved ours. Thanks to you, we met our goal of raising $5,000 and were able to secure the matching grant as well. So, we’ll be able to redo our website and continue bringing you cutting-edge analysis of foreign policy, like our religion and foreign policy strategic focus, our Fiesta! department, and recent essays on Pakistan, Iran, and Kosovo.

The Politics of Religion

We’re wrapping up our strategic focus on religion and foreign policy. Finishing out the series, FPIF contributor Phillip Berryman looks at the changing face of Catholicism in Latin America. The Catholic Church is no longer the only game in town. At a recent conference, Catholic bishops struggled to reconcile a liberation theology tradition of standing with the poor with conservative positions on gender and gay rights. “They seem oblivious to the fact that for years now the number of women in universities has been roughly on a par with men,” Berryman writes. “Women executives are increasingly prominent in Latino American companies and in cabinet-level positions in governments. Argentines recently elected Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner president, as Chileans did Michelle Bachelet in 2006.”

FPIF’s Middle East editor Stephen Zunes takes another look at the “Israel Lobby” now that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have turned their controversial essay into a full-length book. The book, Zunes writes in The Israel Lobby Revisited, suffers from most of the same problems. With even Alan Greenspan admitting that oil politics was the driving force behind the Iraq invasion, the argument that an Israel lobby dictates U.S. policy in the Middle East seems increasingly absurd. “Putting most of the blame on the Israel Lobby is reductionism at its worst, taking just one vector of power and influence and turning into a monocausal theory,” Zunes writes. “It is overly simplistic in that it embraces a naively pluralistic understanding of political power, denying the deeper power structures that drive U.S. policy in the Middle East. Indeed, I wish their analysis were correct, since a single, powerful lobby would be a much simpler problem to overcome.”

Finally, FPIF contributor Najum Mushtaq takes a look at the religious politics in Pakistan. The succession of rulers in Pakistan has used Islam to legitimate their power. “Washington has been an active accomplice,” Mushtaq writes in Islam and Pakistan. “During the Cold War, the United States helped to grow religious extremism in Pakistan. And now during the post-September 11 era, the United States is again ignoring democracy in favor of an unstable combination of military authoritarianism and presumably moderate Islam.”

After Bhutto

Bhutto’s assassination was both shocking and tragically predictable. Since returning to Pakistan, the former prime minister faced three assassination attempts. The fourth took her life. She could have been the first woman secretary general of the United Nations. But she wanted to return home and help rebuild Pakistan.

Bhutto would likely have won the elections, writes FPIF contributor S. Abbas Raza, and helped to rein in the fundamentalists, both religious and political. Instead, her death leaves Pakistan in a political muddle. “In a final, tragic, coup de grace for democracy in Pakistan, it has been announced that Benazir Bhutto’s 19-year-old son Bilawal Bhutto will eventually become chairman-for-life of the PPP,” writes Raza in The Bhutto Dynasty Must End Now. “Worse, while we wait for him to grow up, the party will be co-chaired by Asif Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s corrupt playboy husband who still faces charges in several countries. What hope can there be for democracy in the country when its largest, most populist political party completely lacks even a semblance of internal democracy, choosing instead a cult of personality in its abhorrent, dynastic succession?”

While Pakistan struggles to define a post-Bhutto future, larger geopolitical forces are reshaping the region. China and India, the world’s most populous nations, are joining hands with Russia to explore an alliance to counter U.S. power. As Tarique Niazi explains in Pushback to Unilateralism, “The growing convergence in the worldview of China, India and Russia brought them into a trilateral dialogue, which in Chinese President Hu’s words would see ‘the three nations work together for further communication and coordination in major international and regional issues and promote the solution of disputes and differences through dialogue.’”

Finally, on a lighter note, William Hartung has done a humorous roundup of George W. Bush’s foreign policy successes for 2007. One of those successes: the U.S. president finally knows the name of Pakistan’s leader. Hartung writes in Best of Bush 2007: “When he was running for president the first time around, a reporter asked George W. Bush who the leader of Pakistan was, and he said ‘General. I can’t name the General. General.’ He also said that ‘this guy is going to bring stability to the country.’ Now Bush knows that ‘this guy’ is named Musharraf – but he’s still working on the nuances (like pronouncing ‘Pervez’).”

Picturing Torture

When Fernando Botero finished his paintings of the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib, he couldn’t at first find any U.S. art museum to show them. Only the gallery that represents him, the Marlborough Gallery, was eventually willing to display the striking and disturbing works.

Now the images are in Washington, DC, at the American University’s museum. Poet and FPIF contributor E. Ethelbert Miller talks with the editors of Cut Loose the Body, a collection of poems published in conjunction with the Botero exhibition. One of the editors, Rose Marie Berger, talks about why she was moved to do the project: “I first saw the paintings online and they stuck in my mind, like a splinter. So, I sat down and wrote a poem, in response to first seeing them online. I used the online images for meditations during Lent—as a reflection on the passion of Christ. When I saw the actual paintings in the gallery, I was blown away. They were so big, the colors were so intense. The color I remember the most was the complexity of colors in the bruises.”

Also in Fiesta! FPIF’s youth and activism editor Saif Rahman counts down the best foreign policy tunes of the year. “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution, feminist anarchist Emma Goldman famously said,” Rahman writes. “Fortunately, this year, world revolution had a great soundtrack. It was a breakthrough year for musicians fighting the good fight.” On the list: Lupe Fiasco, Linkin Park, and Manu Chao. And number one on the list is…you’ll just have to read the article.

>Intelligence for a Change

A National Intelligence Estimate that is truly intelligent is like a warm day in January. When the U.S. intelligence community released its recent report noting that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003, there was a palpable sigh of relief around the world. The Bush administration was denied its single most important rationale for attacking Tehran.

As FPIF contributor Marjorie Cohn writes, however, it might be too soon to exhale. “Although the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) makes it more difficult to carry out his agenda in Iran, Bush is trying to publicly undermine its conclusions,” she writes in Bush Still Spinning Nukes in Iran. “‘I have said Iran is dangerous,’ he declared, ‘and the NIE estimate doesn’t do anything to change my opinion about the danger Iran poses to the world – quite the contrary.’ Will Bush provoke an incident with Iran and then respond in ‘self-defense’?”

The critics of the NIE also have an Iranian ally. “As in the period that preceded the Iraq War, the hawks are now validated by an exile entity dedicated to violent regime change,” writes FPIF contributor Rostam Pourzal in Iran Hawks Find New Supporters against the NIE. “The Iranian enabler group that has replaced the old Iraqi National Congress is the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). In cooperation with leading neoconservative figures, NCRI has for over a decade spared no effort to destroy any chance of a U.S.-Iranian détente.”

Surges around the World

Even if Iran is no longer in the crosshairs, there’s plenty enough war taking place around the world. As FPIF columnist Conn Hallinan reports, things are not going so well in Iraq. “Polls indicate that concern over the economy has replaced the war as the major issue for voters, and, that while a majority of Americans want the troops out, those saying that things are going better jumped from 33% to just under 50%,” he writes in The Surge: Illusion & Reality. “Are they going better? Car bombings, sectarian violence and attacks on U.S. troops are down, although 2007 has been the deadliest year of the war for the Americans. But does the reduced violence have anything to do with the ‘surge’?”

To deal with the various conflicts around the world, the UN is now fielding the largest number of peacekeeping forces in its history. “Although peacekeeping operations are growing in size and complexity, they have not experienced an equivalent increase in political and financial support from member countries,” writes FPIF contributor Jean-Marc Coicaud in The Future of Peacekeeping. “The leading Western powers remain reluctant to take a leading role in expanding UN operations. The current U.S. ambivalence toward the UN is perhaps the most crippling factor. And unfortunately, that ambivalence is not likely to undergo a fundamental shift any time soon.” You can also read a 60-Second Expert version of his piece here.

One of the spots where the UN has deployed is Kosovo. But as this largely Albanian enclave in Serbia prepares for independence, the UN is getting ready to leave. To avoid the kind of bloodshed that accompanied the Croatian and Bosnian declarations of independence, the European Union and the United States have to replace the UN forces with forces sufficient to secure the peace. Equally important is an overture to Russia, which has been a key opponent of independence. “There is no need to be alarmist about what Moscow is prepared to do to save face or pressure the West, if only because the Kremlin need not look far to apply some bland yet painful pressure on Western interests. And while there are no face-saving scenarios for both Moscow and Washington, there is still much to be negotiated between the two capitals in countless other arenas, which could limit the humiliation felt on either side,” writes FPIF contributor David Young in Next Moves in Kosovo.

Bolivia, Bali, and Feith

Evo Morales is a member of the new generation of Latin American leaders. He hails from the indigenous community, he is pushing through substantial political and economic change, and he is willing to stand up to the United States if necessary.

As columnist Laura Carlsen writes in Why Bolivia Matters, “Bolivia today is an open laboratory. It might seem an unlikely stage for such an ambitious experiment: a landlocked nation of scarcely nine million with strong vestiges of colonial rule and the continent’s highest poverty rate. Yet the effort to use the state to retake and redistribute resources ceded to private economic interests under globalization, to enfranchise indigenous populations, to narrow the appalling gap between the haves and have-nots of our era deserves a chance and will no doubt provide lessons for the rest of the world.”

In Bali, meanwhile, the world had a chance to move forward on addressing global warming. Instead, argues FPIF contributor Janet Redman, it was business as usual. This includes the World Bank’s plan to slow the destruction of the world’s forests. “By making the goal of slowing deforestation part of the roadmap, forests essentially get folded into the carbon market,” writes Redman in Bali’s Business-As-Usual Mandate. “But the Bali Action Plan does little to explain how forested countries, and the communities who depend on forests for their survival, would be compensated for slowing deforestation.”

And here in Washington, former Pentagon top official Douglas Feith gave a speech recently that admitted some errors in the lead-up to the war in Iraq. But as FPIF contributor Joshua F. String writes in What Doug Feith Taught Me about Decision-Making, Feith was quite ready to take the blame: “So, Feith could admit mistakes. He was human, as opposed to the half-human, half-heartless automaton image that some prefer to depict when writing on the subject of Bush II’s war cabinet. Maybe Feith wouldn’t accept any blame for the war’s mistakes, but I was willing to grant him that admitting a mistake was one step in the right direction. At least it was better than the denial of missteps that continues from Bush II and Vice President Cheney.”

Finally, check out the letter from Miriam Pemberton, FPIF’s research fellow, to Foreign Affairs about defense spending. Reducing the U.S. military budget might seem like mission impossible, but Pemberton rises to the challenge.

FPIF, January 8, 2008

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