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The fundamentalists in the White House
LYNN WALSH outlines the decisive influence exerted on the Bush II presidency by extreme right-wing big business, the neo-conservative political right and fundamentalist religious forces.
"THE PENTAGON policy staff", writes Colin Powell in his memoirs, A Soldier’s Way (1995), was "a refuge of Reagan-era hardliners". "They’re all right-wing nuts like you", Powell, then head of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Richard Cheney, who was then Secretary for Defence. That was in 1991 at the end of the Gulf war, under Bush I, and he was referring to people like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, who are now running the Pentagon under Bush II and vice-president Cheney.
Back in 1991 these hawks were pushing for an aggressive US policy: no détente with the (disintegrating) Soviet Union, a continuous arms build-up, and a strategy of global intervention. They were going too far even for Bush senior, whose more cautious approach to foreign policy had been moulded in the cold-war era of ‘deterrence’ and ‘containment’ of the Soviet Union and its satellites. A vital principle for the hawks was military support for the Israeli state and its expansionist policy. President Bush, on the other hand, withheld US funds from the Israel regime because of its refusal to halt settlements in the occupied territories.
Today the ‘right-wing nuts’ are not only running the Pentagon but also setting US imperialism’s foreign policy agenda. Cheney is probably the most influential figure in the administration. Under Bush II, the hawks’ programme is being implemented: a massive arms build up, a strategy of pre-emptive military intervention, and unwavering support for Sharon and the Israeli state. Their success in grabbing the levers of power reflects the decisive influence exerted on the Bush II presidency by extreme right-wing big business, the neo-conservative political right and fundamentalist religious forces.
George W’s military-strategic policy (set out in the National Security Strategy of the US – see Socialism Today No.69) was not just a response to 11 September, though the wave of anger at the attacks gave Bush the political opportunity to put it into effect. The new military doctrine was incubated over a long period by a gang of cold-war warriors and Reagan-era hawks. In and out of office, they have been associated with several neo-conservative think-tanks linked to the big arms manufacturers. During the Clinton administration, the Centre for Security Policy (CSP) and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) formed the core of a shadow defence establishment, whose leading figures are now running the White House and Defence Department. Many of these ultra-right-wingers held top positions in the Reagan administration, when they campaigned against détente and in favour of an accelerated US arms programme. Before the election of Bush II, they campaigned for ‘regime change’ in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. They produced a series of reports and newspaper opinion pieces vociferously advocating the assertion of US hegemony, unconstrained by international agreements or hesitant allies. Both are committed to US support for the Israeli right. Cheney was on JINSA’s board of advisers, and both Richard Perle (now chair of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board) and James Woolsey (former CIA director) are still on the board. Apart from producing propaganda, JINSA’s main activity appears to be arranging trips to Israel for senior retired officers who work for big arms companies supplying weaponry to the Pentagon and Israel.
JINSA and CSP are overlapping bodies, funded by a network of conservative foundations and public relations entities underwritten by far-right American Zionist organisations, together with money from defence contractors such as Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Alliant Tech Systems, Boeing, Ball Aerospace and Technologies, and Hewlett Packard (who supply missile-defence computer systems). (Jason Vest, The Men From JINSA and CSP, The Nation, 2-9 September 2002)
JINSA has a budget of about $1.4 million a year, while CSP, headed by right-wing propagandist Frank Gaffney (formerly a Perle adviser at the Pentagon) has a budget of about $1 million. As well as defence contractor money, Gaffney’s organisation is funded by the Olin, Bradley and various Scaife foundations. These ‘philanthropic’ organisations link big business, right-wing media (newspapers and radio stations), and the religious right. (John Mellon Scaife played a major role in the campaign to impeach Clinton.) Both JINSA and CSP also get cash from Irving Moskowitz, a Californian bingo magnate. Moskowitz sends millions of dollars a year to far-right Israeli settler groups like Ateret Cohanim and has funded the construction of new settlements in key Arab areas around Jerusalem and on the West Bank. He also helped raise the money for the 1996 reopening of a tunnel under the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif for Muslims), one of the events that triggered the new Palestinian intifada.
Such funding is consistent with the neo-conservatives’ unwavering support for Israel’s right-wing regime. Reflecting JINSA’s position that ‘there is no Israeli occupation’, Rumsfeld (at a Pentagon open discussion on 6 August) repeatedly referred to the ‘so-called Occupied Territories’. The Israelis, he commented, were merely ‘making some settlements in various parts of the so-called occupied area’, which was possible because Israel had ‘won’ all its wars with various Arab opponents. The neo-conservatives believe that the US should smash Saddam’s regime before attempting any Israel-Palestine settlement. Only when the balance of forces in the Middle East is tipped decisively in favour of Israel and against Iran and the Arab states should there be moves to establish a ‘Palestinian entity’ on Israel’s terms.
A faction of the Republican party
IN THE AFTERMATH of 11 September, the neo-conservative right consolidated a dominant position in the Bush administration. While pushing through their military-strategic agenda, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz have also exerted a decisive influence over US foreign policy, sidelining Colin Powell and the State Department.
On the home front, Attorney General John Ashcroft at the Justice Department launched a pre-emptive strike against democratic rights after 11 September, denying non-citizens constitutional rights, introducing military tribunals, and ignoring court rulings against his pre-emptive legal tactics. Chosen for Attorney General by Bush to satisfy the religious right of the Republican Party, who now wield a key influence in Republican-dominated constituencies, Ashcroft is a zealous Pentecostal and a consistent social conservative. (David Corn, The Fundamental John Ashcroft, Mother Jones, March/April 2002) Last December, the Christian magazine, World, nominated Ashcroft as its ‘Daniel of the Year’, for withstanding ‘scorn and harassment’, like the Old Testament hero.
The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld leadership constitutes an extreme right-wing faction of the Republican Party. They are not conservatives defending the ‘conventional wisdom’ of the old Republican establishment, but ‘neo-conservatives’ who stand for a radical extension of right-wing policies on military-strategic, economic, and social issues. This faction is closely linked to sections of big business, particularly big oil companies, Enron-style finance corporations, the most speculative and rapacious capitalist elements who flourished during the 1990s bubble economy.
The neo-conservatives get energetic electoral support from a powerful coalition of the religious right, both Christian and Jewish, which has come together in a fundamentalist, anti-Islamic front. Through the funds and activist support at their command, in many areas they exert a enormous influence on primary elections, which decide who will run as Republican (or Democratic) candidates, and on the results of local, state and federal elections. When well under half of the eligible population turn out to vote in most elections, well-funded, well-organised forces can have a decisive effect, especially in key ‘swing states’ that determine the outcome of federal elections. Under his ‘faith based initiative’, Bush is now channelling about $25 million in federal government grants to community groups affiliated to churches and private institutions for ‘charity-based welfare work’. Mobilising the ‘armies of compassion’ is undoubtedly aimed at boosting votes for republican candidates. One of the first grants went to Operation Blessing International, a Virginia Beach charity set up by Pat Robertson. (see ‘Faithbased Watch’ at www.mediatransparency.org)
The rise of Christian Zionism
THERE HAS BEEN a coalescing over recent years between the Christian right and the Jewish Zionist right into a fundamentalist, anti-Islamic front. Leaders of the Christian right appeared to have dropped the anti-Semitism for which many of them were notorious. Some were associated with the racist John Birch Society and other far-right groups. Recently released tapes of White House conversations in 1972 between the world famous reverend Billy Graham and president Richard Nixon revealed the evangelist preacher denouncing ‘the Jewish stranglehold’ over the US media. In his 1990 book, The Televangelist, the reverend Patrick Robinson attacked the allegedly corrosive effect of "the liberal Jewish population" on American public life.
They have now changed their tune. "The god of Islam is not the same god [as that of Christianity]", proclaimed Billy Graham’s son, the reverend Franklin Graham, who gave the blessing at Bush’s inauguration. "It’s a different god, and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion". Robinson has changed too, warning that Muslims want to "control, dominate and… destroy". Last July he was awarded the ‘State of Israel Friendship Award’ by the Zionist Organisation of America. (Ibrahim Warde, Which God is on Whose Side? Le Monde diplomatique [English edition], September 2002) The reverend Jerry Vines, a past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the second largest US church, described the prophet Mohammed as a "demon-possessed paedophile". Recently, Jerry Falwell, another television evangelist, denounced the prophet as a ‘terrorist’. (Daily Telegraph, 25 October)
The Christian right’s support for Israel has developed for a peculiar combination of political and theological reasons. They began to warm towards the Israeli right after 1977 when the Likud Party swept to power in Israel under Menachim Begin. At the same time, leading ideologues of the neo-conservative movement were making common cause with the Christian right. Many of them, like Irving Kristol and Norman Podheretz, were renegade liberals or social-democrats turned Ronald Reagan enthusiasts, and some were from Jewish backgrounds. They advocating a return to ‘traditional values’, tax cuts, pro-big business monetarist economic policies, and cuts in welfare spending. They also adopted an aggressive stand against the ‘evil empire’ of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe – and of course they enthusiastically supported the Likud regime in Israel. Significantly, Ronald Reagan made his famous ‘Evil Empire’ speech at a meeting of the National Association of Evangelicals.
The Bush I presidency was a disappointment to the neo-conservative/Christian right. Bush failed to destroy Saddam’s regime, and put economic pressure on Israel to halt new settlements in the Occupied Territories. The Christian right, needless to say, were totally opposed to Clinton’s sponsorship of the Israel-Palestinian peace process, and played a prominent part in the well-funded campaign to discredit and impeach him.
All the major figures of the Christian right have joined the new crusade to defend the Israeli state and spread Jewish settlements around Jerusalem and in the Occupied Territories. The reverend James Hutchins, president of Christians for Israel/US, proclaimed that this support was in order to fulfil a ‘divine calling to assist the Jewish people in their return and restoration of the land of Israel’. A quarter of a million US Christians have sent over $60 million to Israel while Hutchins’ organisation has financed the immigration of 65,000 Jews. For both the Christian and Jewish right, Islam is the new ‘evil empire’ and Yasser Arafat is Israel’s ‘bin Laden’.
The Likud leadership has warmly welcomed the support of the Christian right, both for its powerful political influence in Congress and its substantial financial backing for Israel. In the 1980s Begin cultivated rising evangelical leaders like Falwell, presenting him with an executive Learjet for his services to Israel. In 1996 the new Likud premier, Netanyahu, set up the Christian Advocacy Council and flew Christian leaders to Israel where they signed a pledge that the US would ‘never, never desert Israel’. In December 2000 Sharon addressed a group of 1,500 Christian Zionists who had travelled to Jerusalem, telling them: ‘We regard you as our best friends in the world’. Never before have the right-wing leaders of the Israeli ruling class had such consistent US support for their aggressive, expansionist policies as under president Bush, Cheney and their Pentagon hawks.
THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT also supports Israel for theological reasons, based on a literal interpretation of the Bible. A key text is the Book of Revelation, which predicts Armageddon – the final struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil – and the Day of Judgement. This apocalyptic approach is particularly associated with the growing numbers of Christian Zionists, who are particularly strong in the Southern states. (Ken Silverstein & Michael Scherer: Born-Again Zionists, Mother Jones Sept/Oct 20002) In supporting the creation of a so-called Biblical or Eretz Israel, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan (that is, incorporating the occupied territories), the Christian Zionists claim they are answering God’s call in the Old Testament.
"They work to support Israeli, ironically, because they believe it will lead to the ultimate triumph of Christianity. For them, the on-going crisis in the Mideast has been prophesised in the Bible". (Silverstein & Scherer) "There will be no peace", says the reverend Hutchins, "until the Messiah comes". According to the fundamentalists’ mystical narrative, there will be a series of afflictions and wars, followed by the reconstruction of the Temple on the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif). The coming of the Antichrist, Christ’s antagonist, will be followed by the second coming of the Messiah and the final battle in Jerusalem between good and evil – Armageddon. Many Jews will be converted to Christianity, non-believers – including Jews and Moslems – will be damned and perish. The Messiah will lead the righteous to heaven (‘the rapture’). From that perspective, the expansionist policies of Begin, Netanyahu and Sharon can only speed up the fulfilment of Biblical prophecies. Any recognition of the right of the Palestinians to their land would delay it.
However, "the Christian right’s view of Israel", writes Gershom Gorenberg, "derives largely from a double-edged theological position. Following the classic anti-Jewish stance it regards the Jewish people as spiritually blind for rejecting Jesus". (‘Look who’s in bed with the Christian right’, International Herald Tribune, 14 October 2002) The reverend Falwell, who believes the Messiah will return within ten years, claims the Antichrist has already arrived and he is ‘Jewish and male’. The evangelist Chuck Missler has asserted that Auschwitz was ‘just a prelude’ to what will happen in the approaching Armageddon. The Jewish right tends to downplay the anti-Jewish element in the Christian Zionists’ theology. The financial and political support outweighs any worries about the ‘Last Days’. Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organisation of America, says he is willing to make a deal: if they continue to support the Israeli state, "then if Jesus comes back in the future I will join the parade. Hey, if I was wrong, no problem".
Bush denounces the fanaticism of al-Qa’ida and other right-wing Islamic groups. Yet his ‘good versus evil’ rhetoric – ‘those who are not with us are with the terrorists’ – echoes the fundamentalism of the Christian and Jewish right. The influence of this kind of religious fantasy and its echoes in the military-strategic policies of Bush, Wolfowitz and other hawks is frightening. It reflects the dangerous irrationality of the right-wing faction of the Republican party, which is linked to the greediest and most aggressive sections of the US ruling class. But how has the ideology of the religious right gained such an influence?
The right-wing Christian movement is organised and manipulated by big business interests. They draw a mass following from sections of the middle and the working class who feel perplexed and threatened by rapid economic and social changes. Because these strata cannot understand the real social forces at work, they grasp at mystical narratives and seek the consolation of religion, the ‘heart of a heartless world’, as Marx said. Religious-populist traditions play a big part in this trend. It is no accident, moreover, that the Christian right is strongest where the labour movement is weakest, in the South and parts of the mid-West. The weakening of the organised working class in the US and its lack of independent political representation has allowed the growth of the Christian right and the Bush wing of the Republican party. Events in the next period, however, will bring a revival of working-class struggle and leaps in consciousness that will cut across the growth of the right-wing religious movement.
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