Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A "God gap" in US Foreign Policy

With a friendly hat tip to my friend Tom at illusory tenant: You just can't make this stuff up.
The State Department has a "rigidly narrow" view of diplomacy that neglects religion's role in foreign affairs, a prominent Catholic ambassador charged on Sunday (April 17) as he announced his resignation.

Other foreign policy experts have another name for it: Religion Avoidance Syndrome. And the departure of Douglas Kmiec as ambassador to Malta, they say, is symptomatic of a longstanding God gap in American foreign policy.

Kmiec, who helped shape an intellectual framework for President Obama's outreach to Catholics during the 2008 campaign, was slammed in a recent State Department report for spending too much time writing about religion.

Kmiec's focus on faith, "based on a belief that he was given a special mandate to promote President Obama's interfaith initiatives ... detracted from his attention to core mission goals," the State Department's Inspector General wrote in a February report made public in early April.
 Oy vey.  Where do you even begin with this?  First, as I noted in my comment on the illustrious tenant's post, there is already far too much God in our foreign policy for me and, I think, most sane human beings.  For proof of this, one need only remember that one Cardinal Bernard Law, accessory both before and after the fact to God only knows how many child molestations while Archbishop of Boston, is not ever going to face justice for his revolting crimes.  Instead, he gets to be Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, hanging out in the Vatican, an ecclesiastical state with which the United States has diplomatic relations.  The interference of religion in our diplomacy and foreign policy is demonstrated by the fact that the US can and will do nothing to demand the extradition of this fugitive.  Were the decision mine to make, I would be threatening to level the Sistine Chapel with an airstrike unless the Cardinal were immediately turned over.

But the article gets even worse
"Our diplomats are very well trained and they are very capable," said former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2006. "But they have not really focused on religion per se as a subject of study."
Okay, I'll take a step back here.  The article is correct in noting that religion is the cause of a lot of strife in the world today.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say that almost all current conflicts, and the vast majority of conflicts for the last several decades, have their roots in religion.  But it sounds like Albright and Kmiec's solution to this problem would be to have our diplomats be more religiously trained, which inevitably is code for just more religious.  Is there anything the world needs less than just another nation claiming God is on our side, or any side at all?

Wouldn't it be nice if American diplomats could be the rationalists who can talk with, say, the Israelis and the Palestinians and say, "Look, you both have these beliefs, but there's room enough for two countries in the area if only you are willing to coexist."*  It would at least be a better start than current American foreign policy, which is to pander to the US evangelical community (who want the temple to be rebuilt so they can hasten the apocalypse) by simply going along with whatever Israel does, even when they're doing outrageous things like shooting unarmed civilians on a ship in international waters or creating untold suffering and misery with their ill-advised and disproportionate invasions of Lebanon and Gaza (not that the Palestinians are doing themselves any favors).  To quote Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great:
Two peoples of roughly equivalent size had a claim to the same land.  The solution was, obviously, to create two states side by side.  Surely something so self-evident was within the wit of man to encompass?  And so it would have been, decades ago, if the messianic rabbis and mullahs and priests could have been kept out of it.  But the exclusive claims to god-given authority, made by hysterical clerics on both sides and further stoked by Armageddon-minded Christians who hope to bring on the Apocalypse (preceded by the death or conversion of all Jews), have made the situation insufferable, and put the whole of humanity in the position of hostage to a quarrel that now features the threat of nuclear war.
In other words, religion is exactly what we don't need in diplomacy.  Once you inject the idea that people can believe certain of things with no evidence (i.e., God exists), they allow themselves to believe other things with no evidence (i.e., God wants us, and not those other people, to live on this particular piece of land).  Why should the American foreign service be sucked into this mug's game?  Was the Northern Ireland situation (mostly) resolved because the United Kingdom gave more religious training to their negotiators?  Methinks not.

If the United States is going to be part of the solution to international crises, rather than a contributor to the problem in the first place, then we need to continue running people like Doug Kmiec out of the foreign service.

*I would add that the Israel-Palestine question is partly insoluble because of religious issues, but also because there are elements on both sides that have absolutely no interest in peace.  The day Israelis and Palestinians stop killing each other and learn they have nothing to fear from the other will be the end of both the Israeli far right and of Hamas and Hezbollah.  Which is precisely why those are the groups you see perpetuating the cycle of violence.

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