Saturday, September 27, 2014

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, September 27

Religion and Geopolitics Review this week includes:
A persistent confusion during the Arab Spring interpreted by baby-boomer diplomats and journalists has been a preference for the "people" over the government, an identification with NGOs over nations, and a preference for the voice of dissidents over the actions of authorities.  A coalition against ISIS will involve real states with real leaders. Proposing that most men in civic authority are wolves is not religious insight but adolescent posturing.  The Kingdom of God is not served by a growing chasm between religious discourse and the intercourse of nations.

Among diplomats who came of age in a certain era there is similar disconnect in their understanding of statecraft. The saga of a civically immature ambassador to Russia from 2012-2014 is told here with no hint of remorse or self-reflection. The article helps us understand a disturbing aspect of American baby-boomer foreign policy, while also presenting a straightforward if unsympathetic explanation of Putin's Eurasian dream for Russia.

We agree with President Obama in his pre-beheading interview with Thomas Friedman of the NY Times that this is no time to be assembling a new Continental Army from good-hearted Syrian citizens. We will need states as our allies who have a fighting interest in eliminating ISIS. Not Saudi Arabia, but Iran. Not Qatar, but Russia (see also: Georgetown Professor on US Russia partnership, and an American Conservative Journalist on Crimea, Ukraine and Russia). It will not be a Saudi-trained free Syrian army but the remnant State of Syria who will effectively fight ISIS... as they already are.

What the Sunni element will be (and that is exactly who, eventually, will govern this region) is not clear. Jordan and Turkey will play key roles, as will the Sunni tribes enlisted in the "surge." The Maronite/Shiite/Sunni coalition that once was Lebanon must be reformulated, and hold a significant end-stage position. There are people who know much more than we do about the strategic lessons of the last decade. Their clarity in explaining these lessons will be needed in the diplomatic work ahead.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

World's largest ethnic group without a sovereign state


The KURDS -- all 30 million of them -- are a remarkable people. In the midst of the bloody chaos of Iraq, when American forces departed in 2011, "not a single U.S. soldier had lost his life in Kurdish territory."

As the late Christopher Hitchens described them:
"They’re not Arabs. They don’t speak Arabic. They’re not Turks, they’re not Persians. They’re a unique national group... They live in the rather unpromising neighborhood where Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq meet. It’s not the place you would want to pitch your tent, perhaps, if you wanted a state of their own, but that’s where they’ve lived for thousands of years. So what’s happening is a new nation is being born."

(One of those who formerly opposed the notion of Kurdish independence is Daniel Pipes).

Check out this fascinating essay by Dexter Filkins in the 'New Yorker' about the Kurds in Iraq. Hugh Hewitt interviewed him earlier this week.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, September 20

Religion and Geopolitics Review this week includes:
The Islamic State (IS) has a clear religious vision of their goals and enemies and future recruits. We must be clear as well. They propose erasing artificial borders dividing national entities of Syria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon; and creating a seamless religious organization of communal life under the new caliph.  They are fighting to establish a foothold in the Levant (the L in ISIL as the President calls them). They will extend north into Turkey and reunite with the huge Muslim population ringing the southern borders of Russia. This return of the Ottoman caliphate poses a grievous threat to the Turkish nation-state, but it is not clear if the religiously awakened Sunnis of Turkey would weep over the loss. The strength of the Turkish state and the loyalties of the Turkish military will be key. The IS has many adherents across the globe who look to them as the most successful "strong man on a horse" in the Islamic world. They also have many natural enemies who we must engage in this war. They are the Christian Orthodox states (Greece, Serbia, and Russia); the Shia states (Iran, Iraq, and the Syrian remnant); the mixed Christian/Shiite/Sunni state of Lebanon; and the Sunni nations all over the world who have established themselves as Islamic nation-states.

It should trouble us that the coalition being organized by President Obama is to be centered in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis want us to join in their war against the Shia states of Iran and Syria. The Saudis are more responsible for the worldwide spread of the jihadist ideology than any state in the world today. Any coalition with them will pit us against the best organized armies willing  to fight the radical Salafist Sunnis.  How this crucial strategic alignment of allies and enemies will be formulated goes to the heart of the constitutional responsibility of Congress to declare war. It is now the duty of our statesmen to present arguments in the media, public assemblies, and the upcoming elections.

Here are some of the best arguments we have seen for a Christian/Shiite/Sunni nation-state alliance against the Sunni purification movement of the jihadists:
  1. Mr. Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, argues for a potential Iranian alliance in his recent piece on American strategy and alliances in the Middle East.
  2. Conservative journalist and author Pat Buchanan has made some of the most convincing geopolitical arguments for a different alignment.
  3. Finally, here is liberal world-affairs journalist Fareed Zakaria on rethinking our alliance with the Saudis.
 Anthropology of Accord  outlined a similar case a year ago:  A Christian Awakening on the Road to Damascus.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Map on Monday: The Communal Loyalties that Rule Most of the World

In our opening Map on Monday post, we presented the civilizational map of Samuel Huntington. This week we examine the map printed with Dr. David Pence's editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The map (click to enlarge) is more focused than Huntington's. The multicolored key reveals the great religious identities underlying the conflicts between nations in current events. What is the gist of Professor Huntington's argument (that Dr. Pence further extends)? As the bi-polar world order of the Cold War came to an end, man's far deeper religious loyalties emerged to shape the geopolitical order in much of the world.

The most revealing combination of nations constitute the awakening Orthodox -- Russia, Greece, Serbia, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. In north Africa, the Mideast, and central Asia, Sunni Islam is dominant. Israel and Iran are displayed as two minority religious islands in a Sunni sea, the former Jewish and the latter Shia Muslim. Off the map to the southeast are the nations comprising  a third of the world's population: Hindu India and Confucian-Buddhist China.

Most nations of  Europe are colored as Catholics or Protestants. They are also outlined in red and described as "the secular West" by the Star Tribune. Dr. Pence actually refers to this area as the "atheist West." Secular is a designation of time differentiated from Eternal. Secular does not mean atheist. Every nation is secular insofar as it operates in a historical era (the Latin word saeculum refers to the length of a man's general lifespan). Nations are brotherhoods of men so they are spiritual realities, but some nations, like some men, conceive of  themselves as beings without God. They are  the atheist nations. They are defined not by men sharing military duty but by individuals navigating a boundless godless sea of time and space -- the Modern West.

There are Christian nations in Europe which we do not place within the atheist boundaries. These include the Catholic nations of Ireland, Hungary, and Poland. Although the Church hierarchy in Ireland has been deeply corrupted, Catholic communal roots still run deep. Her island status has kept Ireland distinct but not immune from the increasingly atheist zeitgeist of the continent. Poland, too, is tempted by the EU/NATO alliance but we attribute this more to Poland's historical memory of Russia than their grasping a modern Western identity. Hungary is much more robust in emerging as a Catholic nation. The land of Saint Stephen -- which also had been crushed by Soviet tanks -- has welcomed the awakening Orthodox Russia as a fellow Christian brother confronting the confusions of the West.

Understanding the religious loyalties that shape nations is no longer simply a religious matter. It is a geopolitical necessity.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, September 13

Religion and Geopolitics Review this week includes:
An article at the Washington Post's website describes what could be the unraveling of the United Kingdom, with Scotland voting on September 18 whether or not to seek independence. The article explains that the liberal-led Scottish independence movement under the Labour Party would take enough liberal representatives with them that it would leave Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party with a 37-seat majority. With this majority, Cameron could press forward with Great Britain's exit from the European Union.

As the United Kingdom distances itself from the European Union, the United States  presses ahead with plans to further integrate Ukraine into the European Union. This move by the US, however, is seen as the latest misstep in what Patrick Smith at the Fiscal Times ranks "among the worst of its numerous foreign-policy errors." In an article on Obama's foreign policy in Ukraine, Smith argues that President Obama's State Department, under Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, went forward with the coup in Ukraine despite the European-backed deal to hold a special Ukrainian presidential election last May.

Although tensions are on the rise between the United States and Russia, Hungarian-Russian relations have never been better. Hungary, whose new constitution explicitly speaks of the Christian faith in Hungary while rejecting the communist era and abortion, is beginning to reawaken as a Christian nation. As Hungary seeks to abandon the radical individualism of the liberal atheist West, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is now eyeing the illiberal political model used in "Singapore, China, India, Turkey, [and] Russia." Seeing Russia as its closest Christian ally, Hungary and Russia have begun deepening their ties.

Hungary and Russia are not the only ones looking at the "progressive" West with suspicion. Conservative  journalist and author Pat Buchanan has written on nationalism as a far greater ally than NATO (the armed wing of the atheist West). The rising tide of nationalism, Buchanan argues, will be a countervailing power on the European Union, Russia, and any imperial ambitions in China.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Map on Monday: Ten Most Populous Muslim Nations

The above map (click to enlarge) displays the ten most populous Muslim nations in the world. Surprisingly enough, there is only one Mideast Arab nation highlighted on this map - Egypt - and this nation is ranked only #6 on the list. In fact, the top five Muslim nations (Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria) are not even located in the Mideast. While the vast majority of Muslim nations are Sunni Muslim, Iran (ranked #7) stands apart as the one Shiite nation on this map. Turkey (ranked #8) sits astride Europe and the Mideast -- but given its status as ethnically Turkic, Turkey stands apart from the ethnically Arab Sunni nations to its south.

Maps such as this should help us begin to dispel the myth of Islam as predominantly Arab and Mideastern.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Map on Monday: Invasion of Poland

Today marks the 75th anniversary of Nazi Germany's invasion of Catholic Poland in 1939 and the beginning of World War II. Not long after, the Marxist Soviet Union invaded from the east. Here is a map of the twin invasions and ultimate partition of Poland:

As the map shows, Poland was only the most recent nation conquered by the Nazis. They had already taken Austria in March 1938 and began seizing Czechoslovakia later that fall.

The partition of Poland between the Nazis and the Soviets was itself part of a larger non-aggression pact between Germany and Russia. This pact with the Soviets gave the Nazis the opportunity to turn its military westward for the conquest of France. By the autumn of 1940, the Nazis had done in one year what the Germans had failed to do in all the years of World War I.

As one article points out, Poland would suffer a harsh fate during the war and the later Communist occupation. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said: "Poland was crucified between two thieves: the Nazis and the Soviets."