The Two Competing Theologies of American Foreign Policy

April 19 2018

In a sweeping essay, Michael Doran locates the fundamental tension within Americans’ approach to foreign affairs in the divide between two schools of Protestantism. Dispensational premillennialism (or fundamentalism) sees mankind as fallen and imperfectible, the messianic era as not subject to human control, and the task of government to “protect the community [and] safeguard its freedom” rather than “to spread the word of God or to perfect the world.” By contrast, the “progressive persuasion” (or modernism) claims that “the spread of the gospel will produce a millennium prior to Christ’s return.” The first group tends to be suspicious of multilateralism, the second to embrace it. And while the first group has supported Jewish statehood in the land of Israel—even before Zionism—the latter has resolutely opposed it. Even as America has become increasingly secular, writes Doran, the fault lines remain in place:

“We believe,” [wrote some leading millenarians], “that, in this new order of things, the house of Israel, or Jewish race, shall again occupy their own land, and hold the first place among the nations, under their proper king, the Son of David, forever.” This document dates from 1863, the year of the battle of Gettysburg—a cataclysmic moment. The Anglo-American millenarianism of the 19th century was Zionist. . . . Because the return of the Jews to the Holy Land anticipates the return of Christ, American fundamentalism has always considered support for Zionism a proper use of government power, not a hubristic attempt to influence history through human agency. And it has understood Zionism and the mission of America as inseparable parts of a single divine plan. . . .

Not so the Protestant modernists and, especially, the missionary cosmopolitans among them. A key aspect of their global vision was (and remains) hostility to Zionism. Beginning in the mid-19th century, missionaries in the Middle East worked to develop friendships with Arab Muslims. Support for Zionism by the United States led many Arabs to view the [missionary] Americans among them as representatives of a hostile power. In the eyes of the missionaries, therefore, Zionism was responsible for damaging both the missionary project and the national interest—two indistinguishable commitments in their minds. . . .

In mid-[20th]-century America, the State Department and the CIA were packed with Protestant modernists and missionary cosmopolitans. It should come as no surprise that these institutions were reflexively anti-Zionist. Their hostility to the idea of a Jewish state set the stage for a clash between the White House and the State Department during the Truman administration. Truman . . . supported the 1947 partition plan for Palestine and moved to recognize Israel the following year. . . .

No sooner had Truman recognized Israel than the CIA secretly sponsored and funded the establishment of the American Friends of the Middle East (AFME). Outwardly a “people-to-people” public-diplomacy initiative, AFME brought influential Middle Easterners to the United States, helped them write and publish books and articles, and seeded Middle Eastern student organizations on American college campuses. It also lobbied Congress—against Israel. AFME was a remarkable instance of a CIA-confected front organization designed to counter official government policy, in this case by seeking to delegitimize Zionism in domestic American politics. [The Harvard professor] William Ernest Hocking, [the theologian Harry Emerson] Fosdick, and many other leading lights of the Protestant modernist movement were members of the organization. . . . Despite this powerful lineup, AFME did not turn the American people against Israel, and it failed to roll back the gains of Truman’s pro-Zionist foreign policy.

Read more at First Things

More about: CIA, History & Ideas, Protestantism, Religion and politics, U.S. Foreign policy, US-Israel relations


President Biden Should Learn the Lessons of Past U.S. Attempts to Solve the Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Sept. 21 2023

In his speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Joe Biden addressed a host of international issues, mentioning, inter alia, the “positive and practical impacts” resulting from “Israel’s greater normalization and economic connection with its neighbors.” He then added that the U.S. will “continue to work tirelessly to support a just and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians—two states for two peoples.” Zach Kessel experiences some déjà vu:

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and review how past U.S.-brokered talks between Jerusalem and [Palestinian leaders] have gone down, starting with 1991’s Madrid Conference, organized by then-President George H.W. Bush. . . . Though the talks, which continued through the next year, didn’t get anywhere concrete, many U.S. officials and observers across the world were heartened by the fact that Madrid was the first time representatives of both sides had met face to face. And then Palestinian militants carried out the first suicide bombing in the history of the conflict.

Then, in 1993, Bill Clinton tried his hand with the Oslo Accords:

In the period of time directly after the Oslo Accords . . . suicide bombings on buses and in crowded public spaces became par for the course. Clinton invited then-Palestinian Authority chairman Yasir Arafat and then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak to Camp David in 2000, hoping finally to put the conflict to rest. Arafat, who quite clearly aimed to extract as many concessions as possible from the Israelis without ever intending to agree to any deal—without even putting a counteroffer on the table—scuttled any possibility of peace. Of course, that’s not the most consequential event for the conflict that occurred in 2000. Soon after the Camp David Summit fell apart, the second intifada began.

Since Clinton, each U.S. president has entered office hoping to put together the puzzle that is an outcome acceptable to both sides, and each has failed. . . . Every time a deal has seemed to have legs, something happens—usually terrorist violence—and potential bargains are scrapped. What, then, makes Biden think this time will be any different?

Read more at National Review

More about: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Joe Biden, Palestinian terror, Peace Process