Many debates about policy debates are at their core debates about theology. Even people who would not consider themselves very religious often have an implicit set of assumptions about human nature, a divine will, and spiritual values that shape human rights and obligations, policy preferences, and convictions. This is especially true in the United States, as the nation has a long and rich history of public theology, exemplified by figures as diverse as the Founders, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Luther King Jr., Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and most recently President Barack Obama.
In foreign policy, this policy-as-theology debate was on display at last week's Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in the speeches by Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Marco Rubio. The differences were especially notable given that Paul and Rubio both cited the same biblical passage (the Sermon on the Mount) and both focused on the issue of international religious freedom. Yet they used different interpretations of the Sermon on the Mount to advance contrasting visions of America's role in the world.
Paul spoke eloquently about the plight of persecuted Christians overseas, a woefully neglected issue. But his only suggested policy response was to cut off U.S. foreign aid to any country where Christians are targeted. This may have a certain emotive appeal, but it is completely ineffective in dealing with many nations where the persecution of Christians is severest, like Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, North Korea, Sudan, and Eritrea -- none of which receive development aid from the United States. He made no mention of any other policy measures or initiatives to combat religious persecution in nations where the United States doesn't have the (limited) leverage of foreign aid.
I can recall no utterance of Jesus in favor of war or any acts of aggression. In fact, his message to his disciples was one of nonresistance. I do not believe that means that we don't defend ourselves.… I simply can't imagine Jesus at the head of any army of soldiers.… Jesus, himself, reminds us of this in the Sermon on the Mount, when he proclaims, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God."
This no doubt reflects Paul's policy convictions, but it is poor scriptural exegesis. First, it obscures the important distinction between Jesus's exclusively messianic mission and the various roles of Christian citizens (e.g., Jesus didn't run for political office either, but that doesn't mean that Paul as a professing Christian is wrong to hold office). Second, it disregards the biblical distinction between individual conduct and the mandated role of government to "wield the sword" (see Romans 12:9-13:8) that is a cornerstone of the Christian just-war tradition. Politically, Paul's speech was also curious, as it reflects the Social Gospel theological liberalism of the early 20th century that is historically anathema to the Christian conservatives of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. In short, with these hints of pacifism and isolation, Paul sounds in theological terms like a 21st-century Harry Emerson Fosdick.
Rubio also invoked the Sermon on the Mount in his call for American Christians to be involved in the world. Rubio's chosen passage was Matthew 5: 13-16 (just four verses after the one Paul cited):
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
This passage embodies an enduring theme in American history. From its invocation in 1630 by Puritan leader John Winthrop in his famous sermon, the "city upon a hill" motif has been cited by American presidents such as John F. Kennedy and Reagan as a model for the nation's role in the world. Rubio, however, concentrated his remarks on the less-cited passage about the salt of the earth and derived from it the imperative for Christians to play a "preservative" role in the world. He specifically applied it to the issue of religious persecution and urged American foreign policy to be more vigorous in promoting human rights and liberty abroad.
I am sure that both Paul and Rubio are equally sincere and equally fervent in their concern about religious persecution. But both as a matter of hermeneutics and of policy, I find Rubio's remarks more compelling. Just in the case of persecuted religious minorities alone, effective policies to promote religious liberty will entail active American involvement and the full suite of diplomatic tools, as Rubio implies but Paul avoids. Although Rubio's speech occasionally glossed over the distinction between biblical admonitions to individual Christians and conduct by the nation-state, overall he offered a more theologically coherent and convincing case for American leadership in a turbulent world. At a time when the nation suffers understandable fatigue and faces growing domestic pressures for retrenchment, this is a welcome reminder that many others in the world still look to the United States to play a distinctive role.
Photo by Wolfgang Moroder/Wikimedia Commons/Fresco by Franz Xaver Kirchebner in the parish church of Ortisei, Italy
This Saturday, Iraqis head to the polls to vote for provincial councils -- the country's first elections since U.S. troops withdrew sixteen months ago. The balloting comes at a time of growing peril for Iraq. Violence is escalating, as are tensions pitting the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki against the country's Sunni and Kurdish communities -- all exacerbated by the raging civil war in neighboring Syria. While posing a stern test to the viability of Iraq's democratic system, the elections will also serve as an important indicator of the relative strength of Iraq's competing coalitions -- especially Maliki's -- in advance of national elections scheduled for 2014.
At stake are nearly 450 seats on local governing bodies. More than 8100 candidates from some 265 political entities are competing. The elections cover 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces. The three provinces comprising the Kurdistan Regional Government will vote later this year, while elections in oil-rich and ethnically disputed Kirkuk have (by tacit agreement among the competing communities) not been held since 2005.
But in a highly controversial move, Maliki's cabinet decreed in March that balloting would be delayed by up to six months in Iraq's two most influential Sunni-majority provinces, Anbar and Nineveh -- both of which border Syria and have for months been the locus of large-scale (but mostly peaceful) anti-Maliki protests. Maliki claimed -- not entirely without justification, especially in Anbar -- that he was simply responding to the petition of local leaders worried that voters could not be adequately protected from growing collaboration between al Qaeda affiliates on either sides of the Iraq-Syria border.
His opponents charge that the prime minister's real agenda is avoiding a massive anti-Maliki turnout that would further escalate opposition to his government. They correctly note that previous elections were conducted under far more threatening conditions. Both the U.S. and U.N. urged Maliki to reverse course, worried about the appearance of disenfranchising millions of Sunnis already agitated by claims that Maliki has been systematically moving to marginalize their community in the interests of establishing an Iranian-backed Shiite dictatorship. Maliki turned aside these criticisms, while suggesting the delayed elections might occur as early as May.
The reality is that violence threatens voting throughout Iraq. A series of more than 20 terror attacks on Monday hit targets across the country, including prospective polling places, killing Sunnis and Shiites alike. These were but the latest in a string of al Qaeda-linked assaults that have occurred at increasingly regular intervals. The campaign has also been marred by at least 15 candidate assassinations, all of them Sunnis and many believed to have been killed not by Al Qaeda but by political rivals within their own community.
Whether Iraqi security forces can successfully protect the elections without the support previously provided by tens of thousands of U.S. troops is a major question mark. The fact that close to 700,000 army and police officers went to the polls in early voting last Saturday without incident was encouraging. Also of concern, however, is the possibility that the mere threat of violence could significantly depress turnout, stoking doubts about the legitimacy and future of Iraq's shaky democracy. An especially important indicator could be the participation of Sunnis -- a potential barometer of that disgruntled community's continued commitment to the post-2003 political order or, alternatively, a troubling sign that, perhaps inspired by co-religionists in neighboring Syria, they are looking to more confrontational methods to redress their grievances.
Beyond violence, ensuring the integrity of the electoral process has to be a real worry. There is no doubt that America's heavy involvement during past elections helped deter fraud to a minimum. Absence that involvement, the risk of widespread wrongdoing -- or simply the perception of wrongdoing -- increases dramatically, even with the presence of a few hundred international observers and several thousand domestic monitors. The danger that significant swaths of the public may simply reject the legitimacy of the results cannot be discounted.
Assuming a relatively free and fair vote, the outcome of Saturday's elections is hard to predict. No reliable polling is publicly available. Maliki has confidently claimed that his coalition will win big. In recent weeks, he has shrewdly sought to divide his Sunni opposition (including through a surprising set of proposals to ease de-Baathifcation laws), successfully co-opting stalwart nationalists like Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq. The Iraqiya bloc of his main rival, former prime minister Ayad Allawi (a secular Shiite), has splintered, with the current speaker of parliament, Osama Nujaifi, and the former finance minister, Rafi Issawi, forming their own Sunni-based coalition.
Nevertheless, surprises remain possible. In local elections, a voter's familiarity with a hometown candidate can often trump allegiance to a national party. In provincial balloting four years ago, Iraqis voted to punish incumbents -- an inclination that if repeated on Saturday could well work against Maliki and to the benefit of his major Shiite rivals in the Islamic Supreme Council and Sadrist camp -- both of which are fielding their own candidates. For all his troubles, Allawi's bloc is the only one competing in all Iraq's provinces, both Sunni and Shiite, a nationalist vocation that could well accrue to his benefit. And even if Maliki's State of Law emerges as the top vote getter, post-election coalitions among his opponents could emerge that deny him the degree of local domination that he seeks.
Should Maliki nevertheless secure an overwhelming victory, it will likely fuel fears that his most worrisome authoritarian tendencies will be emboldened: more consolidation of control over key state institutions, particularly the means of coercion and the courts; more targeting and exclusion of political opponents; an intensified effort to resolve disputes with Iraq's Kurdish and Sunni minorities through confrontation; and increased dependence on Iran. Maliki's chances of winning next year's national elections, another four years in office, and increasingly unconstrained powers would increase significantly. Should such fears be realized, the results for Iraqi stability and unity could be dire indeed -- especially in a regional context of dramatically heightened sectarian and ethnic tensions, perhaps leading to all-out state collapse in next-door Syria.
From that standpoint, Iraq's future may be best served if Saturday's elections see not only minimal violence, maximum participation, and limited irregularities, but also no clear winners and losers -- a triumph not only of the democratic process, but a therapeutic re-balancing of Iraq's political landscape that reminds all parties of the continued imperative of negotiation, compromise, and political partnership.
SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images
If readers of ForeignPolicy.com have detected a "West Coast" vibe to the website this week, that's because many of us regular contributors are currently attending the International Studies Association annual conference in San Francisco. From Foreign Policy's ranks I've enjoyed seeing Dan Drezner, David Bosco, Steve Walt, and Peter Feaver, among others, in the halls and at different panels.
Today I spoke on a panel titled "Christian Realism in the White House? An Assessment of Reinhold Niebuhr's Influence on Barack Obama's Foreign Policy." Given the recent resurgence of interest in Niebuhr, prompted in part by then-candidate Obama's own favorable comments about Niebuhr to David Brooks in 2007, I thought I would share the following summary of my remarks.
The first disclaimer is that we should not and cannot try to ascertain "what would Niebuhr say today about x or y issue," because to do so wrenches Niebuhr out of his own time and place. Niebuhr's own beliefs can be very elusive; his public career spanned roughly a half century that began with World War I, the Great Depression, the rise of Fascism, Soviet communism, the nuclear age, two land wars in Asia, the birth of Israel, and multiple wars in the Middle East, just to mention a few. The very fact that he acted in history, in a particular time, place, and context, should caution and perhaps even chasten us against too readily attempting to appropriate him for our own 21st century purposes. To do so would be to do violence to his prophetic voice and to his own contingencies as a historical actor.
The second cautionary note follows from the first, and it is against the trap that Paul Elie memorably described as turning Niebuhr into "A Man for All Reasons," as various public personalities try to claim the mantle of Niebuhr for their own various ideologies or favored issues across the political spectrum. Niebuhr's thought has wisdom for all of us, but endorsements for none of us.
But historical context does not mean historical silence, and Niebuhr's body of ideas still has much to say of contemporary relevance. He is not so embalmed in the past that we cannot reflect on his principles for the world today. In that respect, I would apply four Niebuhrian themes to President Obama's foreign policy, two affirmations, and two critiques.
First, I see two Niebuhrian resonances in Obama's foreign policy:
1) American Limits. This is one of the most visible Niebuhrian themes in Obama's foreign policy -- an appreciation of the limits of American power. The Obama White House has made explicit that this is in part their reaction to the perceived excesses of the Bush administration's confidence in American power, and also to a realization of the constraints on American action in an era of severe fiscal austerity and extended military deployments. This notion of limits pervades Niebuhr's thought and is especially pronounced in the Irony of American History. To take just one illustrative quote from this book, written in 1952 in the midst of one of America's most dominant positions in the international system, "our own nation ... is less potent to do what it wants in the hour of its greatest strength than it was in the days of its infancy."
2) "Dirty Hands." To the surprise of most of his supporters and detractors alike, President Obama has been very aggressive in his use of force against terrorists, terrorism supporters, and those suspected of terrorist intentions. These tactics, most especially the drone campaign, are morally ambiguous across multiple dimensions, including the questions of preventive action, noncombatant immunity, and executive authority. Yet this willingness to wield force, to get "dirty hands" in the quest for proximate justice and to defeat a greater evil, is a classic Niebuhrian theme. As Niebuhr once wrote of American nuclear policy in the early Cold War "We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization."
Two other Niebuhrian themes are critical of Obama's foreign policy:
3) Ideological Lassitude: The Obama administration has done little to articulate the ideological stakes in the conflict with militant Islamism, either to define what we seek to defend or what we fight against. Obama speaks occasionally of a "war against al Qaeda and associated groups" but has done little to develop and articulate either an analysis of the ideological comprehension of al Qaeda or of the ideological distinctiveness of the United States and allies and partners fighting against this foe. Such a neglect of the ideational dimension of a conflict is alien to Niebuhrian thought. Much of his life's intellectual work can be considered an extended defense of democratic civilization, exemplified by The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, even as he was also one of the most persistent critics of democratic illusions and propensities to self-righteousness. Niebuhr also devoted considerable intellectual energies to probing the ideological nature of America's mid-century foes, be they German Nazism or Soviet Communism. Of the former, Niebuhr as early as June 1933 denounced Hitler for imposing a "totalitarian" government in Germany that deified the state, and when he later resigned from the Socialist Party over his support for American entry into World War II, he wrote that "if Hitler is defeated in the end it will be because the crisis has awakened in us the will to preserve a civilization in which justice and freedom are realities, and given us the knowledge that ambiguous methods are required for the ambiguities of history." Of Soviet communism, volumes could be devoted to Niebuhr's sustained critique, which included identifying it as a "monstrous evil" and "false religion" that deified both the state and the historical dialectic as the author of history, dangerously monopolized power, embodied utopian illusions, and embraced a materialist view of reality. In short, his advocacy for a robust American confrontation with the Soviet Union was based on a highly ideological understanding of the conflict.
This is not to imply that President Obama is not committed to democratic values or does not understand the ideological dimension of the conflict, but rather that he seems curiously reluctant to explain these themes to the American people and our allies. Just as the Obama administration's drone war takes place in the shadows, so also is the Obama administration's ideological rationale for the conflict confined to the shadows.
4) Unrealistic Pragmatism: The most extensive and sympathetic treatment of President Obama's thought comes from Harvard historian James Kloppenberg, whose book Reading Obama identifies Obama as a philosophical pragmatist in the tradition of William James and John Dewey. Niebuhr, however, criticized pragmatism as a flawed account of human nature and reality and regarded Dewey as one of his primary intellectual adversaries. In Niebuhr's mind, pragmatism was fundamentally unrealistic.
Niebuhrian principles would be suspicious of Obama's pragmatism, seeing in it both an undue confidence in his own reason and an unwarranted optimism about the possibilities of human nature and social organization. In other words, while Obama may appreciate the limits of American power, he seems less mindful of the limits on his own wisdom and virtue. This was perhaps revealed by his naïve offers of unconditional negotiation with rogue regimes in his first term, or his resistance to accountability for the drone campaign. In foreign policy terms, Niebuhrianism would also regard pragmatism as a cause of "muddling through," as experimentation unmoored from a broader set of strategic principles and foundational values. Such pragmatism is leery of democracy promotion and thus lacks a strategic framework to detect opportunities such as the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran. This might help explain the Obama administration's tentative and erratic response to the Arab Awakening, with a half-hearted intervention in Libya, vacillations on Egypt, and negligence on Syria. In philosophical terms, pragmatism perhaps marks Obama's most significant deviation from Niebuhrianism.
We have a pope, and the announcement came on the afternoon when, bored after a couple of days of no results, the same shade of smoke four whole times in a row, and dwindling leaks, the media turned to the line "divided cardinals can't decide who will lead church (which is plagued by scandal)." The choice was not the woman E.J. Dionne hoped for to heal the church (fraught with scandal), nor the African whom Dennis Rodman journeyed to Rome expecting to meet after his wildly successful basketball diplomacy in North Korea (the church whose new leader Rodman sought to meet has faced a long series of scandals). Rodman, however, was closer than most to predicting correctly the outcome of the conclave (held at a moment of crisis over scandals).
The leader of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, is known informally as "the black pope" because of the black vestments worn by that order, and the title is sometimes used ironically (until yesterday, anyway) because of the ups and downs of the relationship over the centuries between the pope and the Jesuits (who were once suppressed by a church now beset with scandal). But the new pope is the first Jesuit to assume the throne of Peter (and he must now deal with a range of scandals). One wonders if the Lord really has a sense of humor, telling the Jesuits, "You guys are so smart? Let's see how one of you likes being in charge of 1.2 billion mortals. And a bunch of scandals."
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina walked into the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI and, apparently to his own surprise, was not far from walking out as the pope elected by those who sought to block Joseph Ratzinger's papacy. So while Cardinal Bergoglio was not among the front-runners this time around as handicapped by Vaticanistas, his selection was not entirely out of left field (springtime brings these mixed sports metaphors, amidst the scandals).
Pope Francis walked out on the balcony yesterday after a relatively quick conclave, which was thankfully months shorter than the 2000 election court challenges in the U.S. Although not well known by the international media, he comes with a great reputation. He is thought to be thoroughly orthodox in his theology, which may disappoint some of his brother Jesuits and plenty of others who were hoping for a brand of modernizing, progressive reform comparable to what Americans are experiencing under President Obama (and progressivism is thought by some to be the only remedy for the many scandals afflicting the church).
But there is much in a name (even in a church struggling with scandal). Those of us whose primary cultural references include the Animal House film genre (and, in my case, fighter squadrons -- much of a muchness) can forget that renaming has a long and very serious scriptural history. Abram is renamed Abraham, Simon is renamed Peter, and there are many other such cases.
While the name Francis may in part allude to that great Jesuit global evangelizer St. Francis Xavier, it seems clear that the new pope has taken his name from St. Francis of Assisi. That is a wonderful choice in many ways. No pope has taken that name before, suggesting a willingness to do something fresh while remaining firmly within tradition by asking for the protection of a great figure in church history (that history is now being challenged by scandal). St. Francis famously renounced his family wealth in favor of a life of genuine poverty and love for the poor, and the new pope has "walked that walk" in Argentina. St. Francis is also known (and idealized in ways that might have horrified him) for his love of wildlife and what we now call nature. His statue adorns many gardens of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. His qualities give him a universal appeal (important for a church fighting to overcome scandal). The choice of name responds, intentionally or not, to the universal interest in this election, in and out of the church (about which Maureen Down has open questions based on scandals).
Moreover, although not taken by a pope before, the name Francis has the hallmark of a certain kind of continuity. St. Benedict began the western monastic movement at the end of the Roman empire, a time of chaos, as Europe entered the middle ages (sometimes ineptly dubbed the "dark ages"). G.K. Chesterton, in his biography of St. Francis, calls this period one of necessary penance, from which continued reform (and the rise of Europe) would emerge. The markers of that emergence were the foundation of two new church orders, that of St. Dominic and that of St. Francis. The transition from Benedict to Francis took several centuries the first time around. Perhaps this pope is seeking to speed to process this time, or more likely, to call attention to the long tides of temporal events in which church history plays out.
We can expect that, like his predecessor, this pope will conduct a diplomacy that is, at root, more evangelical than political. While his perspective as a non-European will be different than previous popes, he has spent much time in Rome and comes from Italian heritage (which, along with choosing a name associated with Assisi, will ease his way into the chair -- the Curia at the Vatican has all the bureaucratic features of DOD or the State Department, and outsiders have much work to do gaining respect and loyalty).
This pope is not afraid to take on the powers of the planet. He has challenged the authoritarian tendencies of the Kirchners, but he will likely not go picking unnecessary fights. He is comfortable with democracy (long-ago reports of ties to the Argentinean junta were evidently dispelled by testimony of the Amnesty International director there -- we certainly hope there is not yet another scandal brewing, but this time it looks safe). He will have to spend much time on his flock in places where Christians are routinely persecuted.
The scandals brought upon the church by the malice and error of too many of its all-too human members are real. Pope Francis must indeed deal forcefully with them. He seems to be a vicar of Christ who will do so, at the same time moving to put the historical Christian message -- the gospel's scandal of the cross -- at the forefront of his papacy. While the right administrative and, where needed, punitive measures will be essential, that central message will be the most Franciscan, most effective priority that Pope Francis could adopt. And he will.
His election has brought joy to Catholics, and many others, from around a world that St. Francis, living before the European age of exploration, had little familiarity with. A few weeks ago in this space, I suggested that Catholics pray that we not get the pope we deserve. From the initial indications, it looks like that prayer may have been answered.
Elliott Abrams' new book, Tested by Zion, recounts the Bush administration's efforts regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and contains two things any such insider's account must. First, a well-researched narrative that answers the "who, what, where, and when" questions. It does that very well. But if it is to be useful to policymakers, students and the well-informed reader, it should do something else -- it should explain the "why." The book does this very well because it does not shy away from describing the actors' motives and actions in terms of their own statements and the commentaries of close observers. If readers want to know why the "peace process" has failed repeatedly, this book goes a long way toward explaining its sad outcome. I will let the book speak for itself, but for my part, it confirms much of what I have seen and experienced over the years: The fault lies largely with the Palestinian Arab leadership and the ill-advised attachment of some in the U.S. State Department to diplomacy for diplomacy's sake.
Abrams does not portray President George W. Bush as perfect, nor for that matter does he portray himself, Condoleezza Rice, or Steve Hadley as above the human tendency to make mistakes or to misunderstand facts or context. And while he sympathizes with Ariel Sharon and other Israeli leaders, he does not consider them perfect. Their flaws and mistakes are revealed here as well. Neither does he count all Palestinian leaders as hopelessly wicked or weak. In my view, Arafat counts as the former and Mahmoud Abbas as the latter, and Abrams' work makes it hard to escape these conclusions. Abrams shows that the majority of the blame for failure to get to peace lies squarely on the shoulders of those Arabs who continually fail to show 1) a sufficient combination of humanitarian impulse toward "the other" and 2) courage to risk their own positions and comfort. Ariel Sharon was willing, but Mahmoud Abbas and those around him were either unwilling or unable to do it and to this day will not or cannot. It doesn't help that other Arab leaders have refused to do their part. It is revealing and depressing to see leaders given the chance to improve the lives of millions who have lived under oppression and been used as pawns squander that chance because they either hate too much or lack the courage to risk their own well-being.
Abrams' treatment of the State Department will cause a lot of bureaucrats and foreign service officers to scowl and complain. He relays in detail the problem the White House faced at the beginning of the Bush administration -- and continuing through the Rice years when she moved to State -- with an agency that wanted to continue to encourage endless dialog between the parties and various other countries when that had never worked before -- unless there were two parties at the negotiating table truly seeking peace. We have as examples only Sadat and Begin regarding Egypt, and Hussein and Rabin regarding Jordan. This endless dialog approach was taken by the Clinton administration with Arafat leading the Palestinian side. It is the most recent failure not because of lack of will on the part of Israel or the United States, but because Arafat had no interest in peace and did nothing to prepare his countrymen for responsible self-government. Just ask President Clinton, or Arafat's widow. So the burden is on State to explain how their preferred modus operandi of talks for the sake of talks would have made any sense in the Bush administration. Instead, the administration pursued a bold plan when it called for a two state solution founded upon the twin goals of an end to terrorism and the building of democracy. Further into the process, when Sharon tried to restart progress on everyone's agreed to plan, the road map, these same diplomats and bureaucrats -- as well as many Israelis, Arabs and Europeans -- decried the "unilateralism" of Israel voluntarily and unilaterally leaving territory in Gaza and the West Bank, territory Sharon understood it could not hold indefinitely as a practical or moral matter.
What did Sharon want in exchange? Nothing but respect and a reciprocation of good will and support. But rather than praise and support a decision that jump-started the peace process that had hit a roadblock in Arafat, many found it Machiavellian. What a shame that in this bizarre world of the Middle East "peace process" an Israeli general turned politician, who actively seeks to improve the lives of Palestinians, is criticized for doing the very thing that can produce momentum. Certainly the tug of war that seems to always ensue between State and the White House over major foreign policy issues played a role in this dissonance, but it was more than that. It was the perennial refusal of modern diplomats' to understand that diplomacy for diplomacy's sake produces little good. Diplomacy is supposed to be the servant of policy goals and requires the good faith efforts of all parties who are earnestly seeking an agreement. Israel has yet to have a willing or able partner in achieving an agreement, and all diplomats would do well to understand that.
In the end, Bush and Sharon failed to achieve peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, but not for lack of trying. They failed because Arab leaders failed to "love their children more than they hate [Jews]," to borrow from Golda Meir. That, and much more, comes through in Abrams' very good recounting.
PAUL J.RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
In an interview on MSNBC with George Weigel, an expert on the Catholic Church and the author of a biography of John Paul II, on Feb. 28, the day that the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI took effect, Chris Matthews asked Weigel about the possibility that New York's Timothy Cardinal Dolan might be summoned to the Chair of St Peter. Matthews remarked that Dolan is an attractive candidate, "very American," "a guy's guy."
Weigel's response was interesting from a strategic perspective. He explained that in years past, there has always been an unwritten proscription on an American pope. The reasoning went, essentially, that because the United States is so powerful in the world, it should not have one of its sons rule the Church. In many ways, this is the obverse of American fears that John F. Kennedy would collude with the Vatican to bring the U.S. under the sway of the Holy See (interestingly, Obama-supporting Catholics attacked Paul Ryan in last year's campaign by arguing that he was insufficiently attentive to Catholic social doctrine, a charge Ryan's bishop helped refute).
Behind that power calculation against an American pope, there is the long-standing suspicion as well that Americans were prone to, well, "Americanism" as it was known in Church circles in the 19th and early 20th centuries. That is, Americans are given to individualism, private conscience, and a general lack of docility. No telling what might happen if a Yank put on that ring.
But Weigel continued that this "superpower veto" is now inoperative. The United States is no longer seen as so dominant in world affairs that the Church should fear an American pope. Dolan will be looked at seriously as a candidate, Weigel believes, as will Cardinal Ouellet of Canada, whose proximity to the U.S. might have placed him under the penumbra of the superpower veto in the past. Both would offer the Church a leader capable of the kind of evangelical Catholicism that Weigel and many others see as essential and timely.
New developments are not lightly picked up by the Catholic Church. So it would be ironic if the strategic withdrawal under President Obama, so dangerously obvious to both our enemies and friends, were also seen as so dispositive of the end of American global leadership as to convince the Cardinals that an American pope might not be a bad idea.
I'm not betting that when the white smoke goes up, Dolan or Ouellet or anybody else in particular will emerge from the coming conclave as Benedict's successor. But the consequences of American strategic decisions reverberate in all sorts of unexpected ways.
John Moore/Getty Images
Pope Benedict XVI's surprise renunciation of the Chair of St. Peter generated a tsunami of commentary usually reserved for events such as a presidential election or a Super Bowl. The pope's struggles with scandal dominated most stories, some of which noted that while these scandals were not of his own makings, they created an enormous burden for him.
The announcement has been greeted with dismay, resigned sadness, and hope in the pope's admirers, Catholic and not. David Goldman, a.k.a. Spengler, wrote, "As the shepherd of the founding institution of the West, Benedict personally embodied its best traditions. He is one of the last men living to have assimilated the fullness of European culture, a member of the ‘heroic generation' of Catholic theologians that included Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar."
The analysis of Benedict's papacy will roll on in the run-up to the conclave that will select his successor, and long beyond. The world's fascination with this office suggests that a pope plays many roles with influence beyond the Roman Catholic Church.
One such role is diplomat. The Holy See is an international personality of long standing, recognized since the middle ages. (The State of the Vatican City is a more recent entity, established in the 1929 Lateran treaties to resolve the status of the pope and his former territories in Italy). The Holy See has its own diplomatic corps, formal relations with 179 countries (including the U.S. since the Reagan years), observer status at the UN, and it is to the Holy See and its head of state, the pope, that arriving ambassadors present their credentials.
Pope Benedict played this role effectively. Although some of his early trips were disturbed by awkward moments with the press, he learned. His 2008 visit to the United States, with stops in Washington and New York, was especially successful and was one of several encounters that cultivated a real friendship with President George W. Bush.
World leaders are eager to visit the pope. Certainly some of that eagerness is deference to Catholic constituencies at home. And, as probably the world's biggest distributor of aid to the poor in every land, the Church has a hand in human development that gives it shared interests with both donor and recipient countries.
In other cases, the substance of the meetings is more geo-political, as the Church deals with the persecution and plight of Christians in China, the Middle East, Pakistan, and elsewhere; faces concerns about encroachments on religious liberty in the United States and Europe; pursues unity within Christianity, including especially with the Orthodox Churches; and generally seeks the space to continue its ministries and activities. The story of Cold War cooperation between President Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is well told in John O'Sullivan's book, The President, The Pope, and the Prime Minister.
The Obama administration would be well served to consider all of this as it nominates a new ambassador to the Holy See, who will be received by a new pope.
But diplomat was not the role most cherished by Benedict. He was first a priest, second an intellectual force and phenomenally prolific theologian. He is one of the few people anywhere capable of debating, and changing the views of, a philosopher like Jurgen Habermas and co-authoring books with leading non-believing politicians such as Marcello Pera, former president of the Italian senate. Then a young priest, Benedict was a major influence in the Second Vatican Council and has spent much of his papacy clarifying the correct interpretation of that Council's teaching. He has constantly emphasized the vital complementarity of faith and reason to overcome fundamentalist extremism and secular nihilism.
Perhaps Benedict's most important legacy will be his writing during his papacy: his three volumes on the life of Jesus, his encyclical letters (especially Caritas in Veritate, or Love in Truth, and Spe Salvi, Saved in Hope) and his regular homilies.
The betting has begun -- literally and figuratively -- on who will replace Benedict. The pope must be priest, teacher, diplomat, administrator, and reformer of a Church still recovering from self-induced tragedy and mismanagement, an arbiter of conservative and liberal viewpoints, authoritative yet gentle. As George Weigel writes in his recent book, Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church, no sane person wants the job, much like the American presidency.
And as we look around us these days, those of us who are Catholics might recall the traditional prayer cited this week by David Warren: "Lord, do not send us the pope we deserve."
Carsten Koall/Getty Images
As Christmas approaches next week, it seems that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) doesn't have the holiday spirit. That is at least the impression one gets when reading the recent CCP directive targeting the allegedly seditious teaching of Christianity in Chinese universities, by "foreigners" no less. Ominously, the document worries that
"With China's rapid economic and social development and the steady growth of China's comprehensive national strength, the U.S.-led Western countries are ceaselessly increasing the intensity of their containment of China. Foreign hostile forces have put even greater emphasis using religion to infiltrate China to carry out their political plot to westernize and divide China. Foreign forces regard institutes of higher education as key targets for using religion, Christianity in particular, for infiltration."
Instead it calls for, among other things, making "education in Marxist atheism the foundational work in resisting infiltration and preventing campus evangelism."
This document alone embodies almost all of the oppugnant points in the Middle Kingdom's fraught relationship with the modern international system: paranoia about a Western plot to "contain" China, an obsession with "China's comprehensive national strength," sinister warnings against "foreign hostile forces" deviously employing religion to "divide China," and calls for renewing revolutionary zeal through that hoary old chestnut of Marxist atheism.
Issued last year, the document was procured by the redoubtable Bob Fu and his organization ChinaAid (see a profile of Bob here in the Bush Institute's Freedom Collection). To be sure, China's ongoing modernization remains one of the most consequential global events of the last several decades, with multiple transformations occurring in economics, urbanization, communications, and China's engagement with international institutions. But when it comes to religion, the CCP still appears to be captivated by 1960s-era agitprop and unreconstructed Maoist dogma.
This CCP paranoia is not only overwrought, it is also misplaced. As Walter Russell Mead points out in his comment on the directive, "the biggest sources of Christian proselytization on campus aren't foreign teachers or students; they're the Chinese themselves. With up to 100 million belonging to house churches, and with Christianity increasingly becoming an urban and even intellectual presence in China, this is hardly surprising." In other words, the real story on religion in China is not the alleged presence of a small number of Western missionaries doing evangelistic work on campuses; It is the size, strength, and vibrancy of indigenous Christianity among the Chinese themselves.
The news of this directive comes in the midst of government crackdown on some bizarre apocalyptic teachings, as FP's Alicia Wittmeyer notes here. On one level, the CCP's fears about religion and instability are understandable, given traumatic religiously-tinged events in Chinese history such as the Taiping Rebellion, or the fringe teachings of apocalyptic cults building "survival pods." But it is the paranoid, undiscerning efforts to squelch and control religion itself, exemplified by the recent directive that, ironically, create conditions in which fringe groups are more likely to proliferate. One of the underappreciated results of religious freedom is how it enables religious groups to compete for adherents, hold each other accountable, and peacefully debate teachings that deviate from historic orthodoxies.
Furthermore, the CCP's fears about foreign missionaries may overlook some of the salutary effects of the mission enterprise -- effects that ironically resonate with Beijing's own concerns about modernization and development. In one of the most interesting and consequential political science articles published in the past year, my former University of Texas-Austin colleague Bob Woodberry (now at the National University of Singapore) produced a groundbreaking study in the American Political Science Review on the historic relationship between Protestant missionaries and advances in literacy, printing, education, civil society, and amelioration of colonial abuses in nations where missionaries were active. The missionary enterprise has perhaps been more consequential than the regnant stereotypes would suggest.
As for China's Christians, they will survive this latest crackdown, as they have endured much worse repression over the past 60 years. After all, as they remember this Christmas season, they place their eternal hopes in the Jesus Christ whose birth, life, and death were defined by persecution. In contrast, the feverish ruminations of a decrepit state ideology are but a passing shadow.
LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images
I've periodically commented here at Shadow Government on the issue of religious freedom, especially in the context of the Arab Awakening and the Obama administration's relatively weak commitment to an effective international religious freedom policy. On that note, Shadow readers might be interested in an article I've just written here for Policy Review, taking a deeper look at the potential connection between international religious freedom and national security.
Religious freedom is one of those issues that few leaders in the American national security community would actually oppose (after all it is one of our nation's founding principles), but few are willing to make it a foreign policy priority because it is often regarded as a merely humanitarian issue of little if any strategic consequence. In the article I explore some possible ways that religious freedom might actually be related to other strategic priorities such as peace and stability, and ways that religious freedom violations might actually be indicators of potential security threats. This leads to my provisional conclusion that "There is not a single nation in the world that both respects religious freedom and poses a security threat to the United States." In turn, I suggest ways that making international religious freedom more of a policy priority can potentially help diagnose, ameliorate, and even prevent emerging security concerns.
This is admittedly just an initial exploration, and my conclusions are both tentative and speculative. At a minimum I hope it encourages deeper and more sustained research into this area (PhD students take note: This could make for an interesting dissertation topic). And for the policy community, as I've said before I hope that religious liberty advocates will consider whether and why this issue might have strategic relevance beyond its innate moral appeal. As the broader Middle East faces an uncertain future and continues to be convulsed by competing visions that largely fall along the fault lines of religious intolerance and religious tolerance, an effective religious freedom policy will be a strategic necessity for the next four years -- regardless of which presidential candidate wins on November 6.
The events in Benghazi created a major opportunity for President Obama to speak out about an important problem that afflicts a significant segment of the Muslim world: an inability to recognize that it is not just its religion that deserves to be respected. Muslims were rightly outraged by the disgusting film that denigrated their religion. Those who produced it -- evidently someone using a pseudonym -- and those who support it -- are beyond the pale of decency, much less religious behavior.
But the same respect is due to other religions as well. The Golden Rule -- do unto others as you would have them do unto you -- applies to the treatment of a religion other than one's own.
Sadly, this has far too infrequently been the case in the Muslim world. When mobs attack Christians, as they have done in Libya, and extremists kill Westerners in the name of their religion, too many Muslim religious and secular leaders stay silent. When individual imams teach that Jews are no better than monkeys, too many of their colleagues have nothing to say. When Hindu and Buddhist shrines are desecrated by Muslim extremists, in too many corners of the Muslim world the silence is deafening.
Muslims certainly do not have a monopoly on extremism, nor on the violence and damage that such extremism all too often generates. But unlike the case with respect to their counterpart religions, too many of their leaders, both religious and secular -- and many of their secular leaders, notably those from the Muslim Brotherhood, have close ties to religious leaders -- do not cry out in protest against such behavior.
The president had an opportunity, and still has the opportunity, to call upon Muslim leaders to teach those who heed their words that they accord to others the same respect for the heritage and practices of other religions that they rightly expect for their own. He has yet to do so. Nor, so far as I have been able to determine, has any senior member of his administration. It is not enough to speak of "respect for other religions." That is far too bland a formula for what is a problem that plagues Muslim leaders to a greater extent than those of other religions.
Teachable moments do not often present themselves, and the president and administration's failure to make the most of the moment at hand is unfortunate at best, tragic at worst.
It's official: The Muslim Brotherhood rules Egypt. After a tense several months in which the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces attempted several times to reassert control over the levers of power, Egypt's electoral council today announced that Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, has been elected president of Egypt.
The SCAF had assured American interlocutors during the voting that they intend to swiftly hand over power to whomsoever was elected. But they also asserted a decree making themselves arbiters of the yet-to-be-written constitution and wielders of parliamentary powers until a new parliament can be elected (Egyptian courts had dismissed parliament last week, worrying many of collusion between the military and judiciary).
It is illustrative of the tumult Egypt has experienced since protests drove Hosni Mubarak from power that electing an Islamist president seems a less worrisome outcome than the election of a secular alternative that represents the corrupt "deep state" that Mubarak and his military cabal kept Egypt submerged under for 30 years.
Mubarak argued that without his strong hand, jihadist radicals would take over Egypt. American administrations of both parties agreed with him, or at least were fearful enough we did precious little to attenuate his grip. A speech on the inevitability of democracy here, some minor funding of political party organization there...but neither Republicans nor Democrats redeemed our universal values in Egypt.
Presidents of either party were unwilling to risk unwelcome change in Egypt of the kind elections brought in Palestine, where a party that brought violence into politics was voted into power. But the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is not Hamas in Gaza. Even in Gaza, Hamas has lost significant public support because of its incapacity to govern. The desire for safe streets, good schools, and functioning sewer systems is the true universality on which democracy attenuates extremism.
Both in Gaza and in Egypt, Islamist parties are being held accountable, not just for ideology but for governance. This is the basis for the drop in popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt after their victory in the parliamentary elections last spring. Egyptian voters were put off by their ineffectualness, by their mendacity in committing to coalition governance then taking power on their own when it proved possible, by their claiming they would not run a presidential candidate since they controlled parliament and then entering a candidate in the presidential sweepstakes.
Voters did question their motives, take them to task for their reversals. A huge part of the appeal of Brotherhood candidates in Egypt has been their opposition during the Mubarak years. They seem to have clean hands, and that is an enormous political advantage as Egypt shakes off the tawdry hold of Mubarak's spoils system. It appears to have been enough to carry the presidential election, a stunning rebuke of the "secular" military.
There is much to be concerned about with the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power. They have been staunchly anti-American. They intend to reform the basis of society with Koranic law as its foundation. They are profoundly uncomfortable with Western mores, especially where the rights of women and religious minorities are concerned.
But this does not mean Egypt's Muslim Brothers will be anti-democratic. In fact, they proved the more democratic force than SCAF since Mubarak's overthrow. There is little sign yet that they will refuse to play by the rules -- SCAF was more likely to bring about "one man, one vote, one time" than the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt's transition is disconcertingly messy. Both the process and the victors raise a serious question about how worried Americans should be about Egyptians' commitment to democracy. But with the advocates of representative government is still where we should place our bets, and offer our assistance.
Daniel Berehulak /Getty Images
The death of Chuck Colson over the weekend marked the loss of an American original. As many news stories attest, Colson embodied a quintessentially American life, from his rise to prominence in the Nixon White House, to his disgrace and imprisonment for Watergate-related crimes, to his conversion to Christianity and rebirth as the head of a worldwide prison reform ministry and leading evangelical social thinker. Colson's experience was also deeply human, a moving account of grace and redemption that resonated with millions of those across the globe influenced by his work and thought.
Yet most of the obituaries neglect Colson's notable influence on American foreign policy. Colson emerged in the 1980s as a leading thinker on Christian participation in politics and policy. His 1989 book Kingdoms in Conflict sought to recover the Augustinian tradition and make it accessible to American evangelicals, who continued to be susceptible to erratic swings between pietistic withdrawal from the world and triumphalist political crusades. Instead Colson argued for a thoughtful participation in politics that sought to achieve proximate goods, while respecting pluralism and not conflating the earthly realm with the eternal realm.
Based on this theological foundation, in the 1990s Colson helped lead a broad movement of American evangelicals into activism on an array of foreign-policy issues, including religious persecution, human trafficking, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, genocide in Sudan, and human rights atrocities in North Korea. Colson also equipped evangelical Protestants to engage in co-belligerency on specific issues with people of different faiths but similar goals, including Catholics, Jews, mainline Protestants, Tibetan Buddhists, Bahais, and secular human rights activists.
I inadvertently experienced a sense of Colson's power to mobilize in 1996 when I worked as a staff member for Sen. Sam Nunn. One day Colson dedicated his daily radio broadcast to a human rights issue in Kuwait and urged his many listeners to phone the State Department switchboard and ask the secretary of state to take action on this case. Unfortunately, Colson erroneously read out to his listeners my direct office line rather than the State Department phone number, and I spent the rest of the day explaining to befuddled callers that I was not Warren Christopher.
Mixed-up phone numbers notwithstanding, Colson and like-minded leaders formed a coalition that achieved some notable policy and legislative successes. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the State Department offices of International Religious Freedom, Trafficking in Persons, Global Aids Coordinator, Special Envoy for Sudan, and North Korea Human Rights would not exist today without Colson's work in generating support for their creation. In the process, Colson and his cohort helped raise the awareness of American evangelicals about a broader set of global issues beyond their traditional domestic social concerns.
In his political thought and engagement, Colson took as his role model the early 19th-century British parliamentarian, abolitionist, and social reformer William Wilberforce. Wilberforce, as Colson often noted, spent as much time thinking carefully about how he participated in the political process as worrying about the outcomes. In Wilberforce's case -- which Colson attempted to emulate -- this meant principled disagreement with his opponents while holding them in charitable regard, and marshaling persuasive evidence and appeals to conscience rather than indulging in deceptions and demagoguery. The challenge now for the next generation of American evangelicals, who first developed their foreign-policy awareness under Colson's influence, is to deepen their political and theological reflection and engagement on complex global issues that do not lend themselves to simple humanitarian appeals, such as great-power relations, international economics, and war and peace.
For all his decades of post-prison work to make a better world, Colson never lost sight of his faith in the world to come. With his passing he has crossed the proverbial river, and I pray he now knows the peace of eternal rest.
STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images
On the flight from Rome to Mexico prior to his visit to Cuba, Pope Benedict XVI stirred the hearts of many by declaring that Marxism had lost its relevance in the 21stcentury. The comment was seen as a preview to how he would comport himself in Cuba -- an anticipated and welcome contrast to the traditional international indulgence of the Castro dictatorship.
Alas, that was to be the most provocative thing he had to say over the entire trip. Instead, it is what he said next that appears to typify how the Church is approaching its mission in Cuba: that the Church was ready to help the island find new ways of moving forward without "traumas."
Apparently, "traumas" is Vatican-speak for the kind of upheavals seen elsewhere in the world of late, in which populations have risen up against oppressive and bankrupt dictatorships.
In other words, the Church has decided that its role in Cuba is not to be a change agent and it would shun any abrupt turn away from Castroism. It also means that the Church is placing its faith in the Castro regime (and its repressive apparatus) to manage a "soft landing" as Cuba supposedly transitions to wherever it is transitioning.
That is why the Pope's trip is a profound disappointment to many who were hoping for a stronger signal that the cries of the Cuban people were being heard for a better future over their dysfunctional and spiritless existence under the Castro regime.
Pope Benedict did pepper his public remarks in Cuba with words like "liberty," "prisoners," (although not "political prisoners") and reached out to "Cubans, wherever they may be" (more than one million in exile), but even the international press covering the visit seemed disappointed by his lack of powerful symbolism and rhetoric. The Pope "delivered a carefully worded, nuanced and balanced arrival address" and "kept his language lofty, his criticism vague and open to interpretation." Frankly, there is little in Cuba today that is "open to interpretation."
Indeed, the effort to avoid saying anything that would offend the Castro government was too conspicuous, as was the smothering regime choreography of the visit -- high-ranking officials always appearing near the Pontiff, media restrictions to control public perceptions, the arrests of dissidents. The Cuban people needed no translation on what was really going on: The regime was demonstrating that the Church did not exist as an alternative voice of authority, but that they and the Pope were compatible.
Neither was the visit enhanced by the fact that the Pope declined to meet with beleaguered Cuban dissidents (as Pope John Paul the Great had done 14 years earlier) because of a "busy schedule," yet found the time to reportedly add a last-minute meeting with cancer-stricken Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez (in Cuba for medical treatment), a man who has notoriously insulted Church leaders in Venezuela time after time.
In one encouraging note, however, a brave Cuban refused to go along with the regime's charade and began shouting during one of the Pope's addresses: "Down with the Revolution! Down with the dictatorship!" As he was being led away, he was punched by an official wearing a Red Cross vest. (Such is life in Cuba.) His fate remains unknown.
Cuba is, of course, hostile territory for the Church, which has been repressed -- at times violently -- for five decades. And it stands to reason there may be a bit of a whipped dog syndrome in the Church's reluctance to be bolder. But the Church is not without its own strengths -- a fact that terrifies the Castro regime, hence, the overexertion to try and co-opt it. But the bottom line is Pope Benedict declined the opportunity to meet the regime on equal terms, and the Cuban people are poorer off for it.
The irony is that the Vatican's choice of a passive and accommodating approach will only help to bring about the kind of turmoil it ostensibly seeks to avoid -- as the pent up frustrations of the Cuban people continue to be denied any viable outlet. It also diminishes the Church's own image as an honest broker in a future Cuban transition.
History will ultimately render the verdict on the Vatican’s choice, but the record shows that placing one’s faith in the hoped-for good will of a dictatorship never really does work out very well in the end.
L'Osservatore Romano Vatican-Pool/Getty Images
"Our homeland is bleeding painfully," is how Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez put it recently at a religious event whose audience included Honduran President Porfirio Lobo.
Indeed, Honduras is spiraling into an ungovernable and unstable situation due to the increased operations of international drug syndicates and their local gang proxies within its territory.
Last October, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime reported that Honduras, a nation of 7.6 million, now has the highest homicide rate in the world.
Honduras is a victim of what counter-narcotics experts refer to as the "balloon effect," where heavy pressures on traffickers in Colombia and Mexico have forced them to relocate to less dangerous environments such as Honduras, where they are flooding the country with hundreds of millions of dollars in drug profits, bribing legislators, judges and police officials, and further debilitating already weak institutions.
What can the U.S. do about this situation? Well, the first thing that's important is emphasizing what we should not do -- and that is cut off all police and military aid, as a recent tendentious op-ed in the New York Times argued. The piece went on to make the preposterous claim that the Obama administration is responsible for the drug carnage in Honduras because it supported elections to end the 2009 presidential crisis that saw the ouster of proto-authoritarian Manuel Zelaya.
While it is true that the Honduras crisis does have its origins in the U.S., it's not quite the way the op-ed's author imagines. It is the U.S. insatiable demand for illicit narcotics that fuels the crisis there and throughout Central America. (U.S. officials estimate that fully 95 percent of the illegal drugs that go from South America to the United States pass through Central America.)
As such, we have an obligation to the Honduran people to help mitigate the violent fallout. But we also have to recognize the U.S.'s present fiscal situation and that major new assistance initiatives are unlikely to be contemplated. But there are important things we can do now within present budgets.
Because the narcos have so thoroughly penetrated the police forces, the military has had to be called in to try and stabilize the situation. We need to work with the Honduran government to allow the DEA to train and vet special law enforcement units as they have done in other countries. Without wholesale reform of front-line units, no progress in the drug war will be possible. Similarly, increased support for witness, judge and prosecutor protection programs to eradicate impunity is essential.
Second, the U.S. needs to implement an extradition treaty with Honduras as quickly as possible. Extradition to the U.S. is what kingpins fear the most, because they know they cannot buy their way out. It has proved extremely valuable in Colombia's war against the cartels and needs to be replicated here.
Yet, these immediate steps and any subsequent measures cannot succeed absent local leadership, which is something the U.S. cannot provide. Regrettably, President Lobo's tenure has not been marked by strong leadership on this front. In short, he is no President Uribe of Colombia.
Honduras needs a leader who is willing to take on the drug cartels and those corrupted by them and move his country -- principally the political and economic elites -- to make the necessary sacrifices to reclaim their country's sovereignty from the drug lords and gangs. President Uribe challenged the wealthy to radically increase Colombia's security resources and they responded, because they saw him as a leader who could be trusted.
Of course, reducing U.S. demand for illegal drugs would begin to solve the problem, but that is not going to happen in the short-term, and the house is on fire today. Decriminalization is a pipe dream. Neither is walking away from the problem a serious option. Honduras's war on drugs is ours too, and it's time that both sides begin treating it as such.
[Full disclosure: In July 2009, I helped to advise a Honduran business delegation that came to Washington during their presidential crisis to defend Manuel Zelaya's removal from power.]
ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama has at long last announced his nominee to be ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom. After an almost unpardonable delay of one and a half years, the news that the White House has tapped the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook for the position is welcome but curious. As many others have observed, conspicuously absent from her background as a minister and motivational speaker is any experience in foreign policy or human rights advocacy -- qualifications which would normally be considered prerequisites for such a senior State Department position.
Nevertheless, once she is in office, Rev. Johnson Cook will be evaluated not on her resume but on her performance. Her past accomplishments show that she will likely bring an entrepreneurial spirit and considerable energy and devotion to the job, as well as an existential understanding of how religious belief functions in the lives of individuals and communities. All of which are attributes that will serve her well. And as my former State Department colleague Tom Farr has noted, once in office she will have the support of religious freedom advocates who are relieved to finally have a champion for the cause, both within the State Department bureaucracy and around the world.
Before Rev. Johnson Cook can be sworn in, the world's greatest deliberative body will first have its say. In the Senate confirmation process, it would be prudent for members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to ask some specific questions. Note that raising these questions need not be seen as acts of antagonism towards Rev. Johnson Cook, but as appropriate measures of legislative oversight, particularly in probing whether the executive branch is faithfully implementing the International Religious Freedom Act that Congress passed unanimously in 1998. Moreover, Senators raising such questions can also help strengthen Rev. Johnson Cook's position at the State Department and her role as America's chief religious freedom diplomat, by requiring the administration to provide satisfactory answers. Herewith some suggested questions the Senate might ask:
1. Will your position be listed on the State Department's organizational chart, and will you attend Secretary Clinton's morning senior staff meetings?
In an inauspicious sign of its (lack of) priority at the State Department, the IRF ambassador position does not even exist on the State Department's organization chart -- unlike every other ambassador-at-large. Participation in the secretary's morning staff meetings is essential for functioning effectively as a senior official in the department.
2. Will you have an official role in helping administer the Human Rights and Democracy Fund? How will you advocate for religious freedom programming in that fund?
The Human Rights and Democracy Fund (HRDF) is one of the Bureau of Democracy, Rights, and Labor's most effective initiatives, yet religious freedom has generally not been a priority in it and has sometimes been ignored altogether.
When a large group -- of Republicans, Democrats, Senators, Representatives, Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, scholars, activists, realists, and idealists -- all voice agreement on something, it probably merits attention. Such is the case with the need to appoint an ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom.
Almost one and a half years into its term, the Obama administration still has yet to even announce the nomination of an IRF Ambassador (as the position is known in the State Department lexicon). In recent months, a growing chorus of disparate voices -- including Members of Congress, a bipartisan and multi-faith group of religious leaders and human rights activists, an government commission, an independent study task force, and scholars such as my former colleague Tom Farr here in the pages of Foreign Policy -- have all urged the administration to move expeditiously in finally filling the position after 16 months of vacancy. Even if a nominee is announced soon, it could be many more months until the ambassador is sworn in, depending on the vicissitudes of the Senate confirmation schedule. It may well be that President Obama reaches the halfway mark of his term without an IRF ambassador on board.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
By Will Inboden
Sometimes it takes non-American voices to identify America's strengths. Such is the case with the new book by the British writers (and Economist editors) John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge with the audacious title God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World. About half of the book is a survey of the seemingly endless -- and endlessly creative -- varieties of religion in the United States, while the other half of the book profiles a range of important religious movements around the world. Though in most cases it is not that religious faith has "re-appeared" after a long secular decline, but rather that elite observers are finally noticing what has been true all along: the vast majority of people outside the West, and many people in the West, are religious.
To their credit, Micklethwait and Wooldridge do not pretend that they are the first to (re)discover this. Nor do they glibly contend that religion is univocally either a Good or Bad thing. Their argument is rather that religion is important, is powerful, and must be understood if the world is to be understood.
This is relevant in the context of many unfolding events, not least Iran. For example, as this article in today's New York Times describes, most participants on all sides in the prevailing protests would consider themselves Muslims who seek to follow God's will -- where they differ is in precisely what God's will is for their country and their government. Witness the demonstrators shouting "Allahu Akbar (God is Great)!" in their protests against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini, who for his part insisted that Ahmadinejad had won a "divine victory." Even among the protestors, differences abound. Many of Moussavi's followers seek to preserve Islamic rule while eradicating corruption, while other activists think that the entire system of clerical rule is itself un-Islamic and inimical to liberty and justice. In other words, the upheaval in Iran is about competing religious visions of what kind of nation Iran should be, and under what kind of political order.
Nor is it mere coincidence that Ayatollah Khameinei's regime, founded on a revolutionary order of militant Islamic rule (which is itself a deviation from Shi'ism's generally quietist tradition of distinction between mosque and state, cf. Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq), is among the world's worst violators of religious freedom. The tiny minority populations of Iranian Christians, Jews, and Baha'is have all suffered severe persecution. And as seen vividly in the current protests, Iranian Muslims who differ from the regime's version of Shari ‘a law have for decades been stifled in interpreting and expressing their faith as an alternative model for how their nation should be governed.
Religious freedom is central to Micklethwait and Wooldridge's argument as well. As breezy and sometimes sprawling as the book is, the authors attempt to tie it together around a provocative thesis: the American religious system of disestablishment, choice, and competition, is becoming the ascendant religious model around the world. This is also a potent illustration, they believe, of American soft power. Whether consciously or not, religious leaders and movements across different faiths and spanning many nations are finding growth and success through models pioneered in America: independence, innovation, communication through new media, and energetic appeals for new adherents.
Yet Micklethwait and Wooldridge also argue that this dimension of soft power has been relatively neglected by the U.S. government: "one of America's oddest failures in recent years is its inability to draw any global lessons from its unique success in dealing with religion at home. It is a mystery why a country so rooted in pluralism has made so little of religious freedom."
This is a bit too harsh, as the United States has done and still does more to promote international religious freedom than any other government. Witness the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF) and annual report on religious freedom conditions in every country in the world, or the independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, or the Congressional Task Force on International Religious Freedom. No other government has any of these, let alone all of these, entities devoted to religious freedom promotion.
But the Micklethwait and Wooldridge critique still rings true. The IRF office is rather marginalized within the State Department bureaucracy, religious freedom is rarely integrated into the broader national security portfolio, and the United States could do much more to advance it. As my former State Department colleague Tom Farr has written, promoting religious freedom could and should be a strategic component of important issues, including counter-radicalization and counter-terrorism strategies, democracy and civil society promotion, conflict-resolution, and economic development. There are also intriguing connections between religious freedom and the overall quality of life and citizen happiness in nations, as the Legatum Institute's Prosperity Index demonstrates. So promoting religious freedom should be understood as in the national interest more than it is.
Perhaps one reason behind this mystery is the generally secular nature of foreign policy elites, especially at the State Department. As Peter Berger has famously observed, if the Indians are the most religious people in the world, and the Swedes are the least religious people, then the United States is a nation of Indians ruled by a government of Swedes. Many foreign policy professionals in the United States just don't understand religion, and do not see the merit in promoting religious freedom. This is beginning to change, judging by the recent spate of books, conferences, and task forces devoted to religion and foreign policy, but there is still much more to be done to address decades of cultural and systemic neglect.
Most immediately, the Obama administration needs to appoint a capable professional who understands both religion and foreign policy to the still-unfilled position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. And the Administration needs to appreciate that the valiant cries for justice and liberty being voiced today in Iran reflect not just the Iranian peoples' political aspirations, but their religious aspirations as well.
Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.