Friday, April 23, 2004

Those wacky Christians with their apocalyptic foreign policies 

Stop the press: a British leftie believes that "US Christian fundamentalists are driving Bush's Middle East policy", or as the title of his op-ed piece tactfully puts it, "Their beliefs are bonkers, but they are at the heart of power."

"To understand what is happening in the Middle East, you must first understand what is happening in Texas," George Monbiot opens his screed, and goes on to try to persuade the reader (not that the "Guardian" readers need much persuasion) that America's biased approach to the Middle East conflict is the fault of them wacky Christians who believe that Israel will make a nice scenery for the apocalyptic end game.

There's nothing particularly new in Monbiot's analysis; self-important and pseudo-sophisticated intellectual Euro trash has been sneering at America's religiosity for generations. Reagan was portrayed as a dangerous fanatic because he appeared to take the Bible seriously; Clinton was forgiven his Baptism, probably because he was sophisticated enough to get blown by a girl half his age. Now, with Bush Jr in the White House, the post-Christian Eurostablishment is able again to thump its secular chest and establish its moral and intellectual superiority over the fanatics across the ocean.

"We can laugh at these people, but we should not dismiss them," patronises Monbiot. We shouldn't dismiss them because they represent 15-18% of the American electorate, and include in their ranks some influential people like John Ashcroft and Tom DeLay. Oh, and when those people get angry, they send lots of emails to the White House.

And... Well, that's pretty much it. This is what nowadays apparently passes for serious political analysis in Europe.

Yes, a lot of Americans ascribe to a literal interpretation of the Bible (or, as Euro left likes to say, they are "religious fundamentalist", because that way they can be put in the same category as people who strap themselves with explosives and blow up restaurants in Israel - just joking, Christians are far more dangerous). Yes, a lot of Americans believe that the events surrounding the Second Coming of Christ will take place in Israel, and therefore they prefer it be in Jewish rather than Arab hands when it happens. And yes, the Religious Right is a significant political lobby group (unlike the trade unions and minorities).

But "at the heart of power" and "driving Bush's Middle East policy"? Put it back in your pants, Monbiot.

The left doesn't seem to be able to grasp the fact that there might be some legitimate reasons why the US supports Israel, hence they have to focus on illegitimate ones - like religious fanaticism. It doesn't occur to Monbiot that what drives Bush's (and most other presidents' before him) Middle East policy is the fact that Israel is one of America's closest allies and the most dependable one in the region; or that fact that Israel, like the US, is a liberal democracy (again, the only one in the region); or the fact that both countries share in the same broad Judeo-Christian Western heritage. Even if America's Christians were expecting the Second Coming to take place in Patagonia, the US would still be supporting Israel.

As for Christians being at the heart of the American Middle East policy, I would have expected Monbiot to do a bit better than come up with two bit players like Ashcroft and DeLay. Bush himself is a God-botherer (of which fact Monbiot strangely fails to remind his readers), but what about the others who actually make the foreign policy? What about Rice, Powell, Chaney, Rumsfeld, Armitage, Wolfowitz, Bolton? Are they all speaking in tongues and rolling on the floor of the Oval Office, enraptured by the Holy Spirit?

But any intrusion of reality would only spoil a good story of America the Wacky and Ignorant.

The left doesn't seem to be able to make up its mind whether the US foreign policy is run by fundamentalist Christian zealots or canny Jewish neo-conservatives. Either alternative is deeply disturbing and unacceptable, and so either will do. God forbid that the foreign policy should actually express the democratic wishes of the people. No, Europeans are far too sophisticated for that sort of "bonker" idea.


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