U.S. Foreign Policy Should Not Be a Religious Crusade

January 30, 2019 Topic: Security Region: Middle East Blog Brand: The Skeptics Tags: WarReligionChristiansMiddle EastEvangelicals

U.S. Foreign Policy Should Not Be a Religious Crusade

Military involvement in the Middle East should reflect the interests of the United States—all of its people—not just evangelicals.

No doubt, an invasion by Turkey, a supposed U.S. ally, would be bad news for the Kurds, though Ankara has been repressive, not genocidal. Christians are less obviously at risk. Turkey is not a particularly hospitable home, but better than most of the Middle East. Brunson’s arrest was not a matter of religion: tens of thousands of Muslim Turks have been rounded up, most on similarly flimsy pretexts out of the 2016 attempted coup. Indeed, Ankara may have detained him as a bargaining chip with Washington over the fate of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Still, Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council of Syria, complained: “If Turkey invades, our churches and our people will be gone.” David Curry of Open Doors proclaimed: “Left to protect themselves, Christians will become extinct.” That likely is hyperbole but, given the horrid experience of Christians in the aftermath of Washington’s blundering destruction of Iraq and Libya, is an understandable fear. If true, it further calls into question prior U.S. policy, which sparked the ongoing destruction of Middle Eastern Christianity. The greatest danger for local Christians actually lies with Ankara’s Arab allies—supposedly “moderate” insurgents also long backed by Washington. Why did Washington support them against the Assad government?

However, if Washington is supposed to occupy territory to protect even small populations of religious and ethnic minorities, it should place permanent garrisons all over the region. Indeed, the U.S. should impose full-scale occupations of Libya, Iraq, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia. In all of them Christians are treated wretchedly. The better approach would be to encourage the Kurds to negotiate with Damascus—in fact, talks have been ongoing—to reestablish government control over the region. Allowing Syrian authorities to manage the border likely would forestall further Turkish intervention. And Damascus already has proved that it will safeguard Christians.

In any case, the U.S. military is not a tool for sectarian religious leaders to use to protect their own. War is a horrid blunt instrument. America’s seemingly endless Middle Eastern battles have killed thousands of Americans, wounded tens of thousands of U.S. personnel, slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and others, created millions of refugees throughout the region, destroyed Iraq’s indigenous Christian community, visited horror on other religious and ethnic minorities, spread chaos and weapons throughout the Mideast, created and strengthened murderous jihadist groups, and enhanced Iran’s stature. Quite a result, all supported by many leading American evangelicals. Washington’s foolish military adventurism is the fount of the crisis facing Middle Eastern Christianity.

Military involvement in the Middle East should reflect the interests of the United States—all of its people—not just evangelicals. But Syria has never mattered to the United States In fact, it was allied with the Soviet Union during the entire Cold War. Even before the civil war Damascus avoided challenging Israel; today’s wrecked state has no interest in confrontation. Absent full-scale war Washington cannot stop the sovereign governments of Syria, Iran, and Russia from cooperating with one another.

ISIS as a physical caliphate is gone. Surrounding states have the incentive and ability to finish the job. American military involvement actually enhances ISIS as Islamist inspiration globally. Washington has no leverage to oust the Assad government, and doing so would create a huge risk for Christians and everyone else not a radical Sunni. It is time for Washington to bring home its forces.

Evangelical leaders who once preached morality and purity have sacrificed their prophetic role by publicly embracing, often sycophantically, President Donald Trump. Their consistent support for war, irrespective of the awful consequences, further diminishes their religious witness in America today. They increasingly are seen by others as just another selfish interest group, unconcerned about the destruction, death, and chaos resulting from the policies they back. Supporting continued American involvement in the Syrian civil war is the latest, most tragic example of evangelical myopia.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire (Xulon) as well as Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics (Crossway).

Image: Reuters