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.

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

Understanding the Background of the White House Ruling on Anti-Semitism and the Civil Rights Act

Dec. 13 2019

On Wednesday, the president signed an executive order allowing federal officials to extend the protections of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to Jews. (The order, promptly condemned for classifying Jews as a separate nationality, did nothing of the sort.) In 2010, Kenneth Marcus called for precisely such a ruling in the pages of Commentary, citing in particular the Department of Education’s lax response to a series of incidents at the University of California at Irvine, where, among much elase, Jewish property was vandalized and Jewish students were pelted with rocks, called “dirty Jew” and other epithets, and were told, “Jewish students are the plague of mankind.”

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, U.S. Politics