Monday, July 24, 2006

Megachurch Evangelicalism and Neo-Conservative Foreign Policy

I'm sure someone's made this connection in one form another before, like maybe this guy, and this other guy.

But it still seems to me an unholy merger that warrants continued investigation, like an onion constantly peeled back to show yet additional gradations. For one thing, both megachurch evangelicalism and neo-conservative politics are heavily oriented around the nation of Israel, the former for its presumed role in bible prophecy leading to the rapture and return of Christ, the latter for other reasons, mostly geopolitical. So in regards to Israel, both movements have the same goal--the preservation of the Jewish state and the destruction of its infidel neighbors.

And both emerged at around the same time, in the late 1970's, as reactions against cultural liberalism and realist detente politics. And both represent significant breakages from the traditional Republican coalition and thought. Once upon a time, it was the mainline Protestant churches, Episcopalian, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, etc, that made up the Republican elite and its core northern support. Now, mainline Protestantism is in decline, replaced by megachurch evangelicalism, and political Christianity is more rooted in the south and west than in the north.

Meanwhile, neo-conservative politics got its start in the late 1970's as the Reagan/Kilpatrick wing of Republicanism, which desired a more beligerent posture towards the Soviet Union and an end to the realist policy of detente and arms control led driven by Nixon-Ford-Kissenger. George H.W. Bush, General Scowcroft and Colin Powell resurrected a realist foreign policy vision as the U.S. entered the post-Cold War era. The election of Bill Clinton brought with it a more internationalist and humanitarian tweaking to the old realism, an adaptation that provided a ready target for discontented conservatives anxious to flex America's newly buffed muscles now that the other bully on the beach--Soviet Russia--had been vanquished.

But there is a sense in which megachurch evangelicalism and neo-conservative foreign policy are marketably different. The former seeks domestic authoritarianism, a destruction of the Constitutional wall between church and state, and a hyper-invasive posture towards privacy rights, lifestyle issues, and personal morality and religiosity.

But where megachurch evangelicalism demands hyper-order and control in the homeland, neo-conservative foreign policy advocates international disorder and chaos abroad. The old Republican realism of Nixon and Kissinger aimed for world order and a balance of power. In a word, stability. The new neo-conservatism of Gringrich and Kristol wants no order and relishes, if not purposely orchestrates, global instability. That's the only conclusion I can draw from the administration's Iraq strategery and its latest policy, or lack thereof, on Israel, Palestine and Lebanon.

There's a well known anecdote from Secretary of State George C. Marshall's visit with Stalin in the Soviet Union just before the formulation and announcement of the Marshall Plan. During the visit, Marshall was appalled to realize that Stalin didn't care about the reconstruction of Europe or the fate of the nations and peoples so ravaged by the war. Rather, Stalin appeared indifferent, if not pleased, by conditions of the countries borderin his own. The better, no doubt, to ensure the Soviet dictator he wouldn't be enduring any more invasions from the west.

The current neo-conservative foreign policy elite seem to share a similar mindset. Splinter the enemy, exploit the divisions, or attempt to exploit the divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims, decapitate regimes deemed unfriendly to American power, and reap the benefits of countries left in turmoil or cowed into obesience. As I've mentioned before, the civil war in Iraq works for neo-conservatives for at least two reasons. One, it reduces Iraq's future opposition to U.S. middle east policy by causing the state to war against itself. Two, the continued chaos aids the neo-conservative story about the middle east and the global war on terror by providing an example of another situation where America is seemingly interested in promoting democracy but is hindered by terrorist opponents.

This latter point was made by Newt Gringrich on C-Span yesterday. For the Newter, the bloodshed there is indicative of the enemies we face and justifies continued American beligerence and war-mongering. That's the beauty of the neo-conservative foreign policy nightmare. There are no circumstances that don't reaffirm and justify its ambitions. If a friendly democracy is created in Iraq (or Iran or Syria) than the effort was worth it. On the other hand, if as a result the state disintegrates into sectarian violence, than that proves how dangerous and anti-American the area's peoples are, which in turn, reaffirms and justifies the American initiative.

I also seems clear to me that Newt Gringrich is emerging as the neo-conservative's leading political spokesman. Although out of office, his re-emergence in the last few months and his adoption of the neo-conservative war agenda gives the neo-con establishment a fresh, new believer, ready to take up the banner when George W. vacates the WH in two years. And it wouldn't surprise me if Gringrich both runs in 2008 and wins the nomination. He's the only True Believer among the prospective contenders who also brings an articulate nightmarish vision, unlike others, such as George Allen, who while being sufficiently ideological, I think lacks the charisma necessary for winning the presidency. Then again, who knows. Maybe someone like Allen would be the perfect, pliable Bush replacement, while Gringrich and Kristol procede with the real work of influencing public opinion and manipulating the bureaucracy to extend America's power across the globe and to destabilize our enemies, both real and imagined.

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