Tag Archives: Foreign Policy

“Military Chaplains in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Beyond” (Patterson, ed.)

This month, Rowman & Littlefield releases “Military Chaplains in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Beyond: Advisement and Leader Engagement in Highly Religious Environments” edited by Eric Patterson (Regent University). The publisher’s description follows:

The role of military chaplains has changed over the past decade as Western militaries have deployed to highly religious environments such as East Africa, Afghanistan, and Iraq. U.S. military chaplains, who are by definition non-combatants, have been called upon by their war-fighting commanders to take on new roles beyond providing religious services to the troops. Chaplains are now also required to engage the local citizenry and provide their commanders with assessments of the religious and cultural landscape outside the base and reach out to local civilian clerics in hostile territory in pursuit of peace and understanding.

In this edited volume, practitioners and scholars chronicle the changes that have happened in the field in the twenty-first century. Using concrete examples, this volume takes a critical look at the rapidly changing role of the military chaplain, and raises issues critical to U.S. foreign and national security policy and diplomacy.

Misunderstanding Putin

biophoto_150_1Last Friday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”–the breakfast salon of the bien pensant–Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Rick Stengel (left) took on Vladimir Putin. Stengel attempted to explain how Putin’s conduct in Ukraine damages Putin’s own interests. Putin, Stengel told his interlocutor Steven Rattner with an air of frustration, “is making fundamental errors” that would get him in trouble with the Russian people. “He’s moving further away from the West,” Stengel said, at a time when “people want to be closer to the West.” Rattner agreed that Putin is being “irrational.” Isn’t it obvious?

In fact, it isn’t at all obvious that Putin is being irrational or that people around the world want to be closer to the West, at least not in the way Stengel seems to think. It is very difficult for Americans to understand this, but on many issues we are cultural outliers. America, especially its professional class, has what psychologists call a WEIRD culture—Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. WEIRDs are very secular. They place great emphasis on personal autonomy; indeed, autonomy may be their most important value. That’s one reason why America works so hard to support movements like feminism and gay rights abroad.

By contrast, most of the world’s cultures are not WEIRD. They are not secular and do not see personal autonomy as the most important value. Jonathan Haidt explains this very well in his recent book, The Righteous Mind. Many world cultures, Haidt writes, have an“ethic of community” that sees people principally as members of collectives—families, tribes, and nations—with strong claims to loyalty. Many have an “ethic of divinity,” which holds that people’s principal duty is to God, not themselves. “In such societies,” Haidt writes, “the personal liberty of secular Western nations looks like libertinism, hedonism, and a celebration of humanity’s baser instincts.”

Putin is many things, but he is not a WEIRD. He has been making clear for years that he does not aspire for Russia to become a WEIRD society. The values he promotes are nationalism, authority, loyalty, and religion. Especially religion. As a perceptive post by national security expert John Schindler explains, Putin’s worldview contains a large element of Holy Russia/Third Rome ideology, “a powerful admixture of Orthodoxy, ethnic mysticism, and Slavophile tendencies that has deep resonance in Russian history.” Of course, Putin may be insincere. Like many dictators, he may simply be using religion to his advantage. But, even if his convictions are phony, the challenge he poses to the West is fundamentally a cultural and ideological one.

And many Russians support him. Putin has been extremely good at exploiting the suspicion that many Russians feel about the West and its values–especially America and its values. Notwithstanding Stengel’s assertion, Putin is not acting against the wishes of his own people. Indeed, his popularity at home has been growing since the start of the Ukraine crisis. And, as Schindler explains, it’s not only Russians who think they way Putin does. “There are plenty of people in the world who don’t like Putin or Russia, yet who are happy that someone, somewhere is standing up to American hegemony.” The thuggery in Ukraine will cost him some of this support. But many people will be inclined to dismiss Putin’s conduct as a reassertion of Russia’s traditional interest in its near-abroad.

In other words, our conflict with Russia is not simply about politics, or economics, or even national security. It’s about culture and values. It’s not that Putin insufficiently appreciates what WEIRDness requires. He’s not a WEIRD at all. He doesn’t want to be. The people who run our foreign policy should understand this. If Stengel’s appearance on Friday is any indication, they don’t.

Annicchino on Developments in Religious Freedom in Italian Foreign Policy

Our friend Pasquale Annicchino (European University Institute) has posted a concise and highly informative paper on recent developments in the promotion of freedom of religion or belief in Italian foreign policy. Here is Pasquale’s abstract:

The right to freedom of religion or belief has visibly made an entry into the international arena through specialized institutions aimed at its protection and promotion in multilateral fora, in international organizations, and in relationships with third countries (countries that are not part of the European Union) and civil society at large. This is also true in the case of Italy, which recently joined the growing number of countries with dedicated policies for the protection and promotion of freedom of religion or belief in their foreign policy. In this article I provide a brief update and analysis of the recent attempts undertaken by the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs in the field. An English translation of the protocol between the City of Rome and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs establishing the Italian Oversight Committee for Religious Freedom is provided in the Annex.

Religion in the National Intelligence Council Report

One often hears that America’s foreign policy elites don’t understand religion. Mostly secular themselves, they dismiss religion as a factor in world events; at most, they believe, religion operates as a pretext for other, deeper motivations, like politics and economics. This attitude can blind policymakers to reality. Even after 9/11, some foreign policy experts continue to minimize the religious roots of Islamism.

Some of this attitude is on display in the most recent National Intelligence Council Report, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, released earlier this month. The report, prepared every four years for the incoming administration, is meant to highlight medium and long-term trends in world affairs. Global Trends 2030 has received a lot of attention, primarily for its prediction of a decline in American power and a shift to a multipolar world. The report is also noteworthy, though, for the way it downplays religion’s role in shaping events.

It’s not that Global Trends 2030 completely ignores religion. The report discusses political Islam — we’re now paying attention to that phenomenon, at least — though some of the analysis might strike readers as optimistic, for example, the assertion that the protesters of the Arab Spring “acted in the name of democratic values, not in the name of religion.” (Apparently the report was prepared before recent events in Egypt). The problem is that the report minimizes religion. In 140 pages, Continue reading

UNESCO Declares Bethlehem Church a World Heritage Site

Last week, UNESCO accepted Palestinians’ application to have Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity (left), the traditional site of Jesus’ birth, declared a “World Heritage Site” under the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage. The list of roughly 1000 such sites worldwide, nominated by states that have signed the Convention, is essentially an honor roll, though named properties can qualify for UN restoration funds and for protection under the laws of war. Adding the Church of the Nativity was more controversial than usual. The US and Israel objected because of the implications for Palestinian statehood. Additionally, the three Christian communions that share the shrine under the 19th-Century Status Quo, which CLR Forum has discussed before, worry that designation as a World Heritage Site will lead to interference from civil authorities. In fact, the threat of outside interference typically gets the communions to settle differences among themselves, which may explain last fall’s agreement on repairs to the church’s roof. This is not the first time the church has been the subject of world diplomacy. In the 19th Century, rival claims to the church caused an international crisis that contributed to the Crimean War.

Louër, “Shi’ism and Politics in the Middle East”

From Columbia University Press, a new book by Laurence Louër (research fellow at CERI/ SciencesPo in Paris), Shi’ism and Politics in the Middle East (forthcoming May 2012). The publisher’s description follows. 

Laurence Louër’s timely study immediately precedes the recent outbreak of unrest in Bahrain, triggering the escalation of the so-called Arab Spring of 2011. In addition to issues relating to the role of Shiite Islamist movements in regional politics, Louër provides background for the Bahraini conflict and Shiism’s wider implications as a political force in the Arab Middle East.

Louër’s study depicts Bahrain’s troubles as a phenomenon rooted in local perceptions of injustice rather than in the fallout from Shiite Iran’s foreign policies. More generally, her work argues that although Iran’s Islamic Revolution had an electrifying effect on Shiite movements in Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf, in the end local political imperatives are the crucial driver of developments within Shiite movements—though Lebanon’s Hezbollah remains an exception. In addition, the rise of lay activists within Shiite movements across the Middle East and the emergence of Shiite anticlericalism has diminished the overwhelming influence of the Shiite clerical institution. Ultimately, Louër dispells the myth that Iran determines the politics of Iraq, Bahrain, and other Arab states with significant Shiite populations. Her book couldn’t be more necessary as revolution continues to spread across the Middle East.