January 27, 2003

Is U.S. Foreign Policy Driven

Is U.S. Foreign Policy Driven by Religion? For Europeans, the Answer is Increasingly Yes

A recent opinion piece in a major British daily is titled simply: "The United States of America Has Gone Mad." The writer describes American strategic thinking thus: "God appointed America to save the world in any way that suits America” and suggests that “religious cant” is the reason why U.S. soldiers will be sent to war in Iraq.

This emerging view of U.S. foreign policy as theological enterprise is increasingly widespread in Europe. Elite European opinion certainly has come a long way since the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when the left of center French daily Le Monde famously declared "We Are All Americans Now." Even Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, was quoted recently describing U.S. foreign policy as "religious" and “all or nothing” in nature.

There is a deep irony here. The United States was attacked on September 11th by a terror network motivated by a grotesquely distorted theological worldview. Some European elites, rather than fully concentrating on marshalling forces with the U.S. to confront this global threat (one aimed at Paris and London as much as at New York), are instead branding the United States with the tag of reactionary religiosity.

Unfortunately, stereotypical perceptions are trumping rational analysis when it comes to European views of current U.S. foreign policy. Unaccustomed (since at least Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire”) to provocative language like "axis of evil," "with us or against us" or "evil-doers," European elites are focusing on Administration verbiage and rhetorical pronouncements rather than the manner that U.S. foreign policy is actually being implemented.

Take the variegated approach the U.S. is pursuing with the "axis of evil" members. Iraq is being pressured under the barrel of a gun, in North Korea the U.S. is pursuing dialogue in close consultation with key regional players and, in Iran, the U.S. is monitoring the dynamics of change within Iranian society while not shutting off channels with Teheran. Hardly the one-size-fits-all foreign policy that Mr. Solana describes.

Another important, and related, misperception is that a small cabal at the Pentagon is evangelically-bent on exporting American-style democracy from the River Jordan to the Tigris and points beyond. One prominent academic recently suggested that there is a “messianic” aspect to figures such as Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz—again linking U.S. policymaking to theological imperatives.

Yet these neo-conservatives are not primarily driven to unseat Saddam because they believe a gaggle of Jeffersonian Democrats is patiently waiting in the wings to preside over a parliamentary democracy in Mesopotamia. Indeed, the consensus administration policy focuses on Saddam’s arsenal. Whether relatively dovish advisors around Secretary of State Colin Powell or hawks around Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—the goal is to disarm Saddam. To paraphrase an old line, it’s the weapons of mass destruction, stupid.

The current American Administration understands that the greatest threat to international security in the 21st Century will come from the perilous intersection between transnational terror groups and rogue regimes with WMD capability. We must hope that Europeans understand that the religious forces that actually need combating are busy manufacturing poisons like Ricin in London or finding the next discotheque to blow up. The sooner Europeans leaders fully understand that, the better for re-invigorated cooperation across the Atlantic to better secure the international system from future shocks like 9/11.

Posted by Gregory at January 27, 2003 10:05 AM
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