The Two Competing Theologies of American Foreign Policy

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

Israel Just Sent Iran a Clear Message

Early Friday morning, Israel attacked military installations near the Iranian cities of Isfahan and nearby Natanz, the latter being one of the hubs of the country’s nuclear program. Jerusalem is not taking credit for the attack, and none of the details are too certain, but it seems that the attack involved multiple drones, likely launched from within Iran, as well as one or more missiles fired from Syrian or Iraqi airspace. Strikes on Syrian radar systems shortly beforehand probably helped make the attack possible, and there were reportedly strikes on Iraq as well.

Iran itself is downplaying the attack, but the S-300 air-defense batteries in Isfahan appear to have been destroyed or damaged. This is a sophisticated Russian-made system positioned to protect the Natanz nuclear installation. In other words, Israel has demonstrated that Iran’s best technology can’t protect the country’s skies from the IDF. As Yossi Kuperwasser puts it, the attack, combined with the response to the assault on April 13,

clarified to the Iranians that whereas we [Israelis] are not as vulnerable as they thought, they are more vulnerable than they thought. They have difficulty hitting us, but we have no difficulty hitting them.

Nobody knows exactly how the operation was carried out. . . . It is good that a question mark hovers over . . . what exactly Israel did. Let’s keep them wondering. It is good for deniability and good for keeping the enemy uncertain.

The fact that we chose targets that were in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility but were linked to the Iranian missile and air forces was a good message. It communicated that we can reach other targets as well but, as we don’t want escalation, we chose targets nearby that were involved in the attack against Israel. I think it sends the message that if we want to, we can send a stronger message. Israel is not seeking escalation at the moment.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Iran, Israeli Security