This week's editor

Rosemary Belcher-2.jpg

Rosemary Bechler is openDemocracy’s Editor.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

From terror to democracy: an open letter

What can citizens worldwide do in face of violence, fear and power? Anthony Barnett, openDemocracy’s editor, invites you to gather on 11 March 2005.

Iranian options

The United States and Israel see the Tehran regime as a far bigger threat than Saddam. Can Europe stop George W Bush from opening a new front in the “war on terror”?

Rethinking Iraq

Is it time for critics and supporters of the Iraq war to make up? openDemocracy posed a question to Iraqis and non-Iraqis. Now, in round two, they respond to each other.

Iraqi retrospect and prospect

In his hundredth weekly column since the start of war in Iraq in March 2003, our global security correspondent assesses United States strategy.

Talking to terrorists in Gaza

A dialogue in Palestine makes the Dutch expert in conflict resolution, Mient Jan Faber, think afresh about the ethical foundations of political action.

America's nuclear stealth war

The United States denounces Tehran’s development of nuclear weapons while quietly modernising its own arsenal.

Shi'a rising in Iraq

As the votes are counted, the real story of Iraq’s first democratic vote since 1953 may be that the country’s Shi’a majority is transforming the nature of Iraqi politics.

Five principles for a safer future

Democracies can effectively fight terror only by remaining true to themselves, says Isabel Hilton.

Make a difference: meet on March 11

On the anniversary of the Madrid train bombings, openDemocracy editor Anthony Barnett invites you to join a world conversation.

Christian Zionists and neocons: a heavenly marriage

The effects of the Iraq war are reverberating across the United States defence establishment. One of its consequences is a major rethink of military budget planning, including a decision to postpone some high-tech projects in favour of increasing the size and capability of the US army (see “Insurgents prevail”, 6 January 2005). It is becoming clear that this is happening in the contest of increasing civilian influence over defence planning within the Pentagon, as well as a more powerful role for the Pentagon itself within the George W Bush administration.

US military leaders, according to a well-informed source, “are worried the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) is being hijacked by a small cadre of civilians, and they believe they will be kept out of the loop, just as they were when budget cuts were decided only a few weeks ago” (for more information, see David Fulghum & Robert Wall, “Style Change”, Aviation Week, 24 January 2005).

The key player in this “cadre” is probably Stephen Cambone, under-secretary of defence for intelligence. But the overall trend seems further evidence that Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz (the defence secretary and his deputy) are able to maintain much greater control of military force planning than their predecessors.

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The senior military are naturally reluctant to cede the control of such planning to civilians. They also have a wider concern that the current hawkish security policy of the Bush administration, including its liking for pre-emption, simply doesn’t take military realities into account. A well-rehearsed example is the refusal of the civilian leadership in 2002-03 to listen to voices from within the Pentagon and the US Army War College about the likely consequences of regime termination in Iraq.

Many departments of the United States government – state, commerce, justice and the treasury, as well as agencies such as the CIA – have historically made a contribution to developing United States security policy, in a context where the Pentagon plays the major role. But in the post-9/11 era, as US military forces moved to the forefront of the US response, “national security” concerns have come to overshadow other influences in policy formulation. In particular, the administration has come to regard the intelligence agencies much more as arms of government policy than as providers of independent assessments. This has been encouraged by, and in turn enhanced, the influence within the administration of neo-conservative security ideologues who are determined to ensure that the dream of the New American Century becomes a reality.

Many commentators have concentrated on the increasing influence of this neo-conservative thinking, especially in the light of the convincing electoral victory of President Bush in November 2004. But a quite different source of influence on US foreign and security policy, often neglected or underestimated, is also becoming significant. This is the constituency known most commonly as the “Christian Zionists”, whose role was mentioned recently by those anonymous SWISH consultants in their recent report.

Towards the “end of days”

Christian Zionism, also known as dispensationalism or dispensation theology, has been around for over a century and a half but it has only acquired real political significance in the past decade. Its current importance stems from three factors: the voting power of a significant proportion of evangelical Christians, its visceral support for the state of Israel, and its links with neo-conservatism.

The essence of “dispensation theology”, allowing for internal variations, is that God has given a dispensation to the Jews to prepare the way for the Second Coming. The literal fulfilment of Old Testament promises to biblical Israel is approaching, an “end of days” that will involve a millennium of earthly rule centred on Jerusalem. Thus, the state of Israel is a fundamental part of God’s plan, and it is essential for it to survive and thrive.

Dispensationalists would argue that this has always been a core part of the Christian message, but most historians of theology trace the doctrine to the thoughts and preachings of John Nelson Darby (1800-82), a minister of the Plymouth Brethren active in promoting it in the 1820s. It attracted particular attention in the United States as part of the Biblical Conference Movement in the 1870s, and flourished in the first decades of the 20th century.

The evangelist Cyrus Scofield was central to this process. His Scofield Reference Bible (1909) was the first book published by the new US offices of the Oxford University Press. Its prolific theological interpretations helped make it perhaps the most renowned version of the bible in North American evangelism.

Michael Vlach describes how many Bible schools teaching dispensationalism were formed in the 1920s, the most significant being the Dallas Theological Seminary in 1924. The Scofield Bible became a standard source in these institutions, helping the phenomenon of “Christian Zionism” to lay down firm roots in the inter-war years.

Many dispensationalists saw the establishment of Israel in 1948 as the beginning of a fulfilment of biblical prophecies. Later moments in the country’s history – especially the six-day war in 1967 and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 – gave a further impetus to the idea.

The Bill Clinton years (1993-2000) were more difficult for dispensationalists, partly because they followed the preacher scandals of the late 1980s, and because Clinton was more favourable to the more secular elements of the Israeli political system, not least with its Labour Party. But during his presidency, the main Israel lobbies in Washington – particularly the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) – sought to build close links with the Christian Zionists. In this, Aipac and similar organisations were recognising the increasing demographic and political power of the Christian Zionists, and also securing a wider base of support at a time when American Jewish communities were scarred by deep divisions that threatened to reduce support for Israel.

A recent, succinct history of Christian Zionism by Donald Wagner of Chicago’s North Park University tracks the remarkable coming together of the movement with neo-conservatism during the George W Bush era, and quotes the leading evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell: “The Bible Belt is Israel’s safety net in the United States.”

Wagner remarks: “By 2000, a shift had taken place in the Republican Party. It began embracing the doctrines of neoconservative ideologues who advocated US unilateralism and favored military solutions over diplomacy. The more aggressive approach was put into action after Sept. 11, and to no one’s surprise, Israel’s war against the Palestinians and its other enemies was soon linked to the US ‘war on terrorism’.”

A number of groups now connect evangelical Christian churches in the United States with support for Israel, many of them making specific reference to Jerusalem. Stand for Israel, for example, talks of the need “to mobilise Christians and people of faith to support the State of Israel…” and declares on its home page that “Anti-Israel = Anti-Zionism = Anti-Semitism”.

In addition to his weekly openDemocracy column, Paul Rogers writes an international security monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group; for details, click here.

A new dispensation

This growth in Christian Zionism in recent years forms just one part of the wider increase in the conservative evangelism movement, the fastest-growing sector within American Christian churches. Donald Wagner estimates that it numbers 100-130 million adherents (the population of the United States is 293 million). The proportion of Christian Zionists among this figure is harder to assess, but perhaps 20-25% of US evangelicals could be described as sympathetic to the doctrine’s fundamentalist views. At the same time, larger numbers may be inclined to support Israel because of broader dispensationalist sympathies; and the fact that evangelical Christians seem particularly disposed to vote, and to be more likely to support the Republican Party, has allowed them to secure a power even greater than their numbers.

The political consequence is that both Israel and US neo-conservatives have come to benefit from ideological and electoral support from an unexpected and growing source. This has wider strategic implications too: for many adherents seriously believe that we may be approaching the end of the world, that salvation can arrive only through a Christian message linked decisively to the success of the state of Israel, and that Islam is necessarily a false faith that must be combated.

The fusion of religion and politics that Christian Zionism represents remains a largely unrecognised force in American politics. Its alliance with neo-conservatism may yet do much to influence the middle-east policies of the second administration of the born-again George W Bush.

 

Reporting Iraq's election

Iraqi journalists from the Institute for War & Peace Reporting – not identified by name because of concerns over their security – send eyewitness accounts of election day in four of Iraq’s cities.

The long haul

Whatever Iraq’s election delivers, United States forces cannot and will not leave the country.

The new economy of terror

Terrorism is business as well as politics. Loretta Napoleoni explains how its funders and sponsors support its operations by covert, sophisticated use of changes in the global financial system.

Our Election

On 30 January 2005 Iraqis go to the polls. What are they thinking?

Media in terror

Terrorist attacks challenge journalists to report freely and assert their independence from state influence. How well do they perform under pressure? David Elstein looks critically at the record of the Anglo-American media since 9/11.

Get wise and get real

In face of terrorism, the United States evades and Europe appeases. John Hulsman calls for a real world assessment of the war.

Tides of victory

A Bush administration buoyed by electoral success is extending its military ambitions to Iran and Syria.

The enemy within

The war on terror will be won not by force of arms, but by a new strategic approach that speaks to the experience of the world’s Muslims, says Charles Peña

Terrorism and world politics: conditions and prospects

Terrorism demands of democratic states a careful political strategy informed by cool, patient understanding of its character and aims, says Fred Halliday.

The power of resentment: a response to Karin von Hippel

The Madrid conference marking the anniversary of the March 2004 terrorist attacks must not be imprisoned in the chains of political correctness, says Roger Scruton.

The SWISH Report (2)

Introduction

Six months ago you asked us to undertake an independent analysis of the progress of your campaign. We reported to you in our first paper on the situation as of July 2004. That report was for your consideration as the SPC, but was also expected to be shared with your leadership. You asked us to be candid in assessing threats and opportunities at that time, and also to suggest changes in strategy that might be appropriate in the pursuit of your aims.

Our first report was produced when the United States presidential election campaign was still underway, although George W Bush already seemed to be the likely winner. You have now asked us to produce a follow-up report in the light of the result of that election and of developments elsewhere, not least in Iraq.

India's tsunami

The Indian government’s refusal of foreign aid to its devastated coastal and island regions reflects its aspiration to sit at the world’s top table. Antara Dev Sen on the national dimensions of a global tragedy.
Over half the world’s population lives within 60 km (40 miles) of a shoreline. Our arts and cultures editors explored this border in its realities and our imagination, in over thirty compelling essays with poems pictures. Everything begins… and ends… on the beach.

Insurgents prevail

Increasing instability and violence across Iraq points to an unraveling of US strategy.

What counts as terrorism? The view on the Arab street

In November 2004 Fares Braizat, a polling expert at the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, presented some of the key findings from the opinion polls he had conducted in five Arab countries on the subject of terrorism, to a conference in Trujillo, Spain jointly supported by openDemocracy, FRIDE and King’s College, London. The results make sobering reading.

Five steps for defeating terrorism

An advisor to the Madrid summit on terror and democracy in March 2005 outlines what can be done to tackle terror while retaining and strengthening democratic principles.

Chronicle of a war foretold

Where is the “war on terror” going?

Iraq's dangerous elections

The planning of Iraq’s national elections in January 2005 is accompanied by extreme violence and political uncertainty. Zaid Al-Ali asks whether Shi’a divisions over participation and the extent of Iranian influence in Iraq could further inflame a dangerous situation.

Missiles and militias

The United States missile defence programme is mired in huge costs and technical failures. Could Iraq’s insurgency deal it a fatal blow?

Safe democracy

How should democratic societies respond to terrorism? On 11 March 2005, a year after bombs in Madrid killed 191 people and almost killed thousands, a major summit in the Spanish capital will address this most fundamental question. Here, Mary Kaldor suggests an agenda.

Democracy and Terrorism: a major new debate

How can democracies respond to terrorism without damaging their own institutions and values? In March 2005, thousands of people - including state leaders, scholars, citizens and activists - will gather in Madrid on the anniversary of the horrific "11-M" attacks to seek an answer to this dilemma of our age. Chloe Davies introduces a major collaborative project between openDemocracy and safe-democracy which aims to extend the Madrid debate to the world's public.

The 'greater middle east' in the 21st century

Can the world’s leading conflict zone clear a path towards peace, prosperity and freedom? The last article of Reinhard Hesse – openDemocracy contributor and adviser to the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder – looks forward to analyse the forces that might transform a troubled region.

Syria, the next target?

Washington hawks, undeterred by problems in Iraq, are intensifying their hardline attitudes towards Iran, North Korea, and Syria.

If you find openDemocracy’s Iraq coverage valuable, please subscribe for just £25 / $40 / €40. You’ll gain access to easy-to-read PDFs of Paul Rogers’s weekly column and other articles.

Losing control

After failure in Fallujah, what next for beleaguered United States forces in Iraq?

Iran's nuclear politics

Tehran’s sense of strategic encirclement, allied to Washington’s hostile rhetoric, could make Iran the epicentre of the next regional crisis.

Iraq's tightrope walk: Yahia Said interviewed

Will war or politics prevail in Iraq? Two months before the planned elections, Iraqi civil society scholar Yahia Said tells openDemocracy’s Caspar Henderson that he can glimpse “a small window of opportunity amidst this cycle of occupation, alienation and violence”.
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