Evangelized foreign policy?
When President Bush recently used a public forum to announce his support for a more robust international intervention in Sudan's Darfur region - catching even some of his senior aides off guard - it was yet another milestone for the rising interest of Christian evangelicals in US foreign policy.Skip to next paragraph
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In just a few years, conservative Christian churches and organizations have broadened their political activism from a near-exclusive domestic focus to an emphasis on foreign issues.
As Mr. Bush gave his attention to Darfur, one of the world's most high-profile humanitarian crises, he was almost certainly cheered not just by a coterie of evangelical advisers, but also the sizable Christian right constituency. But his focus on a forlorn region of Africa suggests deeper shifts in the forces influencing US foreign policy.
Even as many in Washington trumpet the return of realism to US foreign policy and the decline of the neoconservative hawks, the staying power of the evangelicals is likely to blunt what might otherwise have been a steep decline in Wilsonian ideals.
Indeed, the aftermath of Iraq has some historians predicting a bout of American isolationism similar to what occurred after Vietnam. But other analysts say that with so many conservative Christians now convinced of activism in foreign affairs, old patterns of periodic introspection have been broken.
"Without a determined constituency pressuring for engagement in international affairs, it would be likely that - given the difficulties in Iraq - you would have had the administration hunkering down a bit, and the American people with them," says Allen Hertzke, an expert and noted author on religion in US foreign policy at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. "But instead, you have these substantial forces pushing on human rights causes and demanding intervention."
Some note that because the evangelicals' foreign-policy interests are motivated by religious convictions and not a temporary cause, the movement has deeper roots. "These people are not flavor-of-the-month types," says Mark Palmer, a former diplomat focused on democratization and now vice chairman of Freedom House in Washington. "The fact they are so involved now will be a factor in us not becoming isolationist."
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center, which periodically gauges public views on America's place in the world, finds an upswing in the percentage of Americans who agree that the "US should mind its own business internationally." But the trend would be even stronger without the evangelical conversion to global involvement, some experts believe.
Ambassador Palmer says some White House political strategists contend that the Christian right makes up at least one-third of the electorate. "Whether that's true or not, the number is large," he says.
Behind the most recent evidence of evangelical influence in US foreign policy - the renewed calls for stronger intervention in Darfur - stands Michael Gerson, who is a Bush policy adviser and speechwriter (and who helped coin the "axis of evil" phrase). The former journalist, who is also a member of an evangelical Episcopal church in suburban Virginia, is seen as one of the driving forces behind Bush's emphasis on a global spread of what the president sees as God-given rights.
So far Bush's call for a considerably larger foreign peacekeeping presence in Darfur - under the United Nations and with beefed-up involvement by NATO - has not been answered by the international community. The effort endured a setback this week when the month-long American presidency of the UN Security Council expired Tuesday without Council action.
The government of Sudan is lobbying against a UN force on its soil, arguing it would constitute a recolonization of the country, according to UN officials.