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Archive for the ‘foreign affairs’ Category

After 26 years as a career Foreign Service Officer, Ambassador Michael Guest is resigning in protest of State Department rules that discriminate against gay employees and their partners.  From the Washington Post:

Within the State Department, gay men and lesbians are widely accepted, in contrast to the military, where an admission of homosexuality is grounds for dismissal. But Guest and others say the State Department’s regulations have not kept pace with the department’s culture, especially as Foreign Service officers overseas face increasing dangers.

For instance, same-sex partners — or unmarried heterosexual partners — are refused anti-terrorism security training or foreign-language training and are not evacuated when eligible family members are ordered to depart. Unlike spouses, they do not receive diplomatic passports, visas or even use of the State Department mail system. They also must pay their own way overseas, get their own medical care and are left to fend for themselves if a partner is sent to a dangerous post such as Iraq.

Many of these rules, Guest said, could be changed with Rice’s signature, which he said was not a matter of gay rights but of equal treatment.

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Andrew Sullivan thinks Giuliani is out of his mind for recent statements made regarding Clinton and Obama. Sullivan wonders, “If he is starting with this kind of unhinged claim, where will he end up?” Probably a legit concern. Or Guiliani could just be reverting to the general Republican campaign tactic of criticizing their (not yet) Democratic opponents.

Then again, Giuliani’s foreign policy adviser, Norman Podhoretz, has been advocating military action as the only US policy option in Iran, citing the dangers of ‘Islamofacism’, and comparing Ahmadinejad to Hitler. Fareed Zakaria interjects a bit of realism into the discussion pointing out Podhoretz’ alarmism . He calls for Cold War style deterrence against Iran’s nuclear program. Excerpt:

Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland’s and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?…

In a speech last week, Rudy Giuliani said that while the Soviet Union and China could be deterred during the cold war, Iran can’t be. The Soviet and Chinese regimes had a “residual rationality,” he explained. Hmm. Stalin and Mao—who casually ordered the deaths of millions of their own people, fomented insurgencies and revolutions, and starved whole regions that opposed them—were rational folk. But not Ahmadinejad, who has done what that compares? One of the bizarre twists of the current Iran hysteria is that conservatives have become surprisingly charitable about two of history’s greatest mass murderers.

I prefer Zakaria’s approach. And while I generally prefer Rudy as a candidate over most others, I find his foreign policy thinking a bit disconcerting.

More: Audio and transcript from last night’s debate on News Hour.

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For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. –John Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charity, 1630

 

In applying their religious beliefs based on the literal reading of the Bible, evangelicals have constructed a millennial and apocalyptic worldview. The English Puritans who settled in Massachusetts in the seventeenth century established this millennial tradition. The Puritans, whose name derives from their desire to ‘purify’ their Christian faith down to the fundamentals of biblical teachings, believed that they were chosen by God to establish a “new Israel” in the New World. The new government they were to form there would be, in the words of John Winthrop, “a city upon a hill,” to be watched by the world as an exemplar of moral purity.

This set the foundation for American exceptionalism, the belief that the United States maintains a special place in the world, offering hope to the rest of humanity. Derived from what they view as divinely inspired exceptionalism, American evangelicals take for granted that the United States is always on the side of the good. They believe it is their God-given mission to promote that good in the world, and to fight evil. This can lead to a failure to look critically upon US foreign policy and its consequences.

This absolute dichotomy between good and evil is the basis of evangelicals’ apocalyptic mentality, and finds it source in the literal reading of the Book of Revelation. Revelation prophesizes the end of the world, where the forces of God battle those of Satan, culminating in catastrophic destruction on Earth, the victory of God, the Second Coming of Christ and his 1000 year reign of peace. Due to this apocalyptic mentality, American evangelicals tend to view conflict with extreme urgency, believing in resolution through cataclysmic transformation rather than gradual change. While this evangelical mentality can inspire dedication to a cause, that dedication maybe misguided. In viewing the world in strict terms of good vs. evil, one may overlook the complexity and nuance of world affairs as well as any empirical reality that may contradict that faith.

Though by no means exclusively to blame for the current troubles in Iraq, we can see some of these elements of an evangelical world view at work in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks and in the execution of the Iraq War. President Bush, himself a devout born-again Christian, drew roughly 40 percent of his 2004 votes from evangelicals. He believes that he was personally called by God to fight against evil saying, “God told me to strike al-Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did.”[1] He has promised to “export death and violence to the four corners of the earth in defense of this great country and rid the world of evil.[2] This certainty in mission, derived from the millennial aspects of his evangelical worldview, has plagued the Administration, as it has continuously called on Americans to “stay the course” in Iraq, in spite of the empirical reality of chaos and unrest.

We see again examples of millennialism in the Bush administration’s preference for unilateral force. In the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks, the administration released its National Security Strategy:

While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self defense by acting preemptively…Today humanity holds in its hands the opportunity to further freedom’s triumph over all these foes. The United States welcomes our responsibility to lead in this great mission. But our responsibility is clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.[3]

This passage indicates the administration’s intent to use unilateral and preemptive force in its mission to destroy evil. Unilateralism relates to the evangelical millennial worldview in that American evangelicals view the United States as a nation chosen by God to lead the forces of good in the world. Certain in the veracity of their moral convictions, evangelicals with this millennial worldview believe that America has the unique obligation to fight evil in the world, even when they are alone in this endeavor. Unilateral action, to the individual with an evangelical worldview, does not indicate a lack the illegitimacy of a cause. Rather, it indicates a lack of morality on the part of non-supporters, only strengthening the millennialist conviction in American exceptionalism.

Additionally this evangelical preference for unilateral action is further connected to the literal reading of the Book of Revelation. The Book of Revelation states that the Antichrist will appear before the Second Coming of the True Christ. The Antichrist will come with false promises of peace and prosperity to be achieved through the creation of a one world government before the True Christ returns to battle the Antichrist in Armageddon. Evangelicals look suspiciously upon the world governing body, the United Nations, as they believe it fulfills the Revelations prophesy of the creation of a one world government. The enormous success of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’s Left Behind series, a fictional account of a modern day apocalypse, indicates how widespread this belief is within the evangelical community. The Antichrist villain of the novels is represented by a fictional UN Secretary General. Sales of this series have topped 50 million.[4]

In line with the apocalyptic mentality, administration members continuously called Saddam Hussein evil in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. While this was done in part to stir popular support, President Bush’s assessment of Saddam went beyond his real capabilities. The administration’s demonization of Saddam probably contributed to the unwavering belief that he was developing nuclear weapons and sought to use them on the United States, in spite of the empirical evidence to the contrary.[5] President Bush’s evangelical worldview also came to light in his exceedingly ambitious belief that he could unilaterally invade a foreign country, depose of its government, and install a democracy that would set off a chain reaction across the entire Middle East. He was blinded by what he saw as his God-given mission into ignoring the real constraints of such an expedition.

 


[1] John B. Judis, “The Chosen Nation: The Influence of Religion on US Foreign Policy,” The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 2005. [2] Ibid.[3] The National Security Council, “National Strategy of the United States,” 2002. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html&gt;[4] Duane Oldfield, “The Evangelical Roots of American Unilateralism: The Christian Right’s Influence and How to Counter It,” Foreign Policy in Focus, August 31, 2003

[5] John B. Judis, “The Chosen Nation: The Influence of Religion on US Foreign Policy,” The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 2005.

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I found this piece in Good Magazine on Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Chairman of NYU’s Politics Department and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. According to the article, Bueno de Mesquita has developed a game theoretical computer model that “can predict the outcome of virtually any international conflict, provided the basic input is accurate.” The article goes on:

What’s more, his predictions are alarmingly specific. His fans include at least one current presidential hopeful, a gaggle of Fortune 500 companies, the CIA, and the Department of Defense. Naturally, there is also no shortage of people less fond of his work. “Some people think Bruce is the most brilliant foreign policy analyst there is,” says one colleague. “Others think he’s a quack.”

The criticism rankles him, because, to his mind, the proof is right there on the page. “I’ve published a lot of forecasting papers over the years,” he says. “Papers that are about things that had not yet happened when the paper was published but would happen within some reasonable amount of time. There’s a track record that I can point to.” And indeed there is. Bueno de Mesquita has made a slew of uncannily accurate predictions—more than 2,000, on subjects ranging from the terrorist threat to America to the peace process in Northern Ireland—that would seem to prove him right.

After testing Bueno de Mesquita’s model the CIA found it had a 90% accuracy level and that it provided far more specific information than the standard intelligence reports from the Director of Intelligence (though I’m surprised they would release that information). The model flows from standard rational choice theory, whereby actors’ motives are configured into equations to determine the rational outcome.

One could see how Bueno de Mesquita’s model is controversial. When I began reading the article I was immediately reminded of Marx’s historical materialism–and we all know how well that turned out. It seems Bueno de Mesquita’s model differs only superficially from Marx’s in that it does not rely strictly on economics and it is not (yet at least) sheathed in idealism. Is this enough to redeem it? It seems enough people think so.

I tend to yield on the side of cautious skepticism with regard to any theory, be it rational or religious, that makes predictive claims on the future. Though there is something of a deterministic element in history, I believe history is still subject to ‘accidents’ of circumstance and the agency of unique and irrational individuals (accidents at least in the sense of what the human mind is now capable of ascertaining) . But then again perhaps I am the naive one.

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The NYT writes about a recent string of vandalism against famous works of art in museums across France, including the Pompidou Center and and the Musee D’Orsay.  In the latest attack, vandals broke into the Musee D’Orsay and punched a four inch hole in Monet’s Le Pont d’Argenteuil (below).

It is disturbing to me that serious attacks on priceless works of art like this have been allowed to continue for over a year in France unabated. Culture Minister Christine Albanel  has proposed steeper penalties for individuals who “attack the history” of France (a man who took a hammer to Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ had his prison term suspended). Though one wonders what good that even does when one can break into a monolithic museum without detection and then get away without being arrested, as is the case with the most recent vandals.

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This story perked my interested because of a previous post I wrote about firefighters and gays. This one involves a case near Bristol, England where a group of firefighters used the fire equipment to bust a group of four men having sex in a public park. The firefighters were later suspended and fined for being homophobic.

This story reeks of PC bullshit. Further, it really makes me question the state of the gay rights movement. There are some in the ‘movement’ who are pushing for marriage equality and there are others who don’t want to be arrested for having sex in public. You lose a bit of moral ground when you’re simultaneously arguing for both. I sincerely hope the movement takes more the direction of the former.

That being said, I do believe it is wrong that these firemen overstepped their authority in conducting this raid. While sex in a public park is illegal, it is the police department’s job to carry out actions like this. We all should be against public officials abusing their authority, regardless of the situation.

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The NYTimes ran an article investigating the status of homosexuals in Iran, as a follow up to Ahmadinejad’s denial of there existence. I found this bit on transsexuals particularly interesting:

But Iran has also taken the unusual step of encouraging sex change operations for those with homosexual tendencies. While religious authorities here view homosexuality a clear sin, transsexuals are considered ill and in need of the help that such an operation can provide.

Reza said he knew of gay men who had changed their sex so that they could be recognized by the government as transsexual and mingle with men more easily.

The policy seems at once both progressive, repressive, and naive. It is progressive in its acceptance of transsexuals–it seems we’re no where near that level in the US. It is repressive in that it encourages extreme surgery for homosexuals who don’t actually have gender identity issues. And the last bit in the block quote clearly indicates the utter silliness of the idea.

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