How US foreign policy hurts Christians worldwide

Christians are the most persecuted religious group worldwide. The 20th century produced more Christian martyrs than any other period in history. During a great part of that century, Christians were mostly persecuted by totalitarian regimes in communist countries like the USSR and China. Today persecution still comes from communist governments, such as the ones in China, Cuba and North Korea, but mostly Christians are persecuted in countries where Muslims control the government. With that in mind, I would like to answer two questions: Why is that and can Christians in the West do something about it?

Typically, Christians (and other religious groups) are persecuted by totalitarian governments. The definition of a totalitarian regime is that it can comport no opposition or dissidence. A totalitarian regime is characterized by the attempt to control your whole life, including your religious life. Totalitarian regimes fear losing control over their population. Christians gathering for worship are mistaken for a seditious group. This is the reason why these governments persecute Christians.

Until World War I, US foreign policy was mostly characterized by what is typically defined as isolationism. US presidents since the Founding Fathers understood that Europe was a mess and that the US would do well to keep away from political entanglements with it. This changed with Woodrow Wilson. Wilson understood that it was the US’ mission to rebuild the World after its own image. With that in mind, he struggled, against the US population, to get the country into World War I.

US involvement in World War I proved to be essential for that war and for all US foreign policy since then. The tendency in Europe, since the 17th century, was for major wars to end with a new power equilibrium. This is not hard science, but pretty much every hundred years Europeans would fight a major war and then rest for another hundred. That was so with the 30 Years War, the War of Spanish Succession, and the Napoleonic Wars. All these conflicts had one thing in common: the emergence of a new great power in Europe moved other countries to balance that power. The tendency, in the end, was equilibrium. That was the case with World War I: the European system was balanced after the Napoleonic Wars. However, towards the end of the 19th century, Germany emerged as a new great power. Other countries allied against it. This scenario was delayed by Otto von Bismarck’s brilliant foreign policy but proved ultimately inevitable.

World War I should end like any other European War since the 17th century: that generation realizes that it is impossible for a single country to dominate the entire continent, diplomats accept the status quo and anyway, everybody becomes war-weary and more inclined to peace. But US intervention prevented that from happening. My hypothesis (that I have no idea how to test) is this: without US intervention, World War I would finish with peace without winners. It would be considered a draw. With US intervention, however, France managed to punish Germany for the War. Germany, on its part, became vengeful against France. England understood that it was better to stay on the other side of the channel. World War I became only the first half of a major conflict that continued some twenty years later with World War II. If in World War I US involvement was optional, in World War II it became inevitable. And after World War II came the Cold War, and the US hasn’t stop ever since.

US involvement in World War I had a number of consequences. German revanchism against France gave way to the rise of Nazism. In Russia, the Bolsheviks rose to power as well. Another effect of World War I was the end of the Turco-Ottoman Empire. Following Woodrow Wilson’s vision, that empire was to be divided into several countries, according to several ethnic groups identified by westerners. In actuality, England and France took the chance to divide the Middle East into several colonies. Christians were persecuted in Nazi-Germany and the USSR. The Middle East is a mess to this day. Before World War I, American missionaries were welcomed in the Turco-Ottoman Empire.

British ones were not, because that empire understood (I suppose correctly) that they would be hard to separate from the imperialist interests of Great Britain. The US mostly took England’s place in this regard. To make matters worse, oil was the fuel of the second industrial revolution that began at the end of the 19th century. Soon after, it was discovered that the Middle East had some of the greatest deposits on the planet. The US became the first world superpower, and to maintain that it needed oil. Lots of oil. It is a vicious cycle.

In sum, I am blaming Woodrow Wilson and his foreign policy for everything bad that happened ever since. The Founding Fathers had a very good foreign policy, that made the US and US citizens welcomed worldwide. Woodrow Wilson broke that pattern, much because he was a liberal Christian who thought that the US role was to make the world democratic by force.

I don’t think it’s too late to change. It might be unthinkable to just withdraw from every international commitment the US has today, but it is definitely time for a gradual change. A world without major US military intervention may be – counterintuitively – a world safer for Christians.

8 thoughts on “How US foreign policy hurts Christians worldwide

  1. It’s hard to test a hypothesis with one case, even with two. You can only build up its credibility from several sides at once. Interesting hypothesis all the same.

    Of course, I have to ask why US intervention in WWII did not have the same consequences on European equilibrium as it did in WWI. In fact, it gave Europeans eighty years of near-peace (and counting). Is that not a form of equilibrium?

    • My understanding is that WWI and WWII is only one war, part 1 and part 2. Things extrapolated from the European scenario. US and USSR started to balance one another. European countries assumed a secondary role. I would say that most of the time from 1945-1991 was more or less a equilibrium between US and USSR. More or less. I believe that the US had multiple advantages. Europeans definitely benefit. Instead of having to protect themselves, they are protected by the US. The problem I see is that it made the USSR a possibility where Christians were heavily persecuted, and from there in China and every other communist country. Similarly, the US inherited England’s bad name in the Middle East, which also was bad for Christians.

  2. It’s worth noting, too, that Christians had lived relatively unmolested in areas now controlled by Muslim autocrats for centuries before the slaughter began in the 20th century.

    The fact that Muslims, or even Communists, were and are in charge of the slaughters might have less to do with who is doing the killing and more to do with what replaced the empires swept away by Western imperialism: nation-states.

  3. A pithy comment but, the elimination of Christians from the Ottoman Empire began as early as the last decade of the 19th. It’s still possible to see it as manifestation of the crumbling of an existing polity, of course. There is a book by Morgenthau, US Ambassador in Istanbul that details the first attempted genocide of Armenians, way before WWII (the usual Turkish excuse for the second genocide).

    • Turkish excuses aside, I think it’s safe to say the nation-state is overvalued by Westerners (especially conservative libertarian Westerners).

    • Very, very interesting. Caught my curiosity! I would like to hear (or read) more!

    • Nation-states are often considered to be sacred territory to conservative libertarians (see Jacques or Edwin, for example), even if they don’t use the word “sacred.” Nation-states arose in Europe, though, and only came into being elsewhere with the fall of the 19th century European empires after World War II.

      The nation-states of Europe and, to a much lesser extent, Canada and Latin America, have a long history of violence, politics, law, and trade (among other factors) that bolster their legitimacy as entities and their place in the world. The states that formed in the ashes of the European empires had no nations to speak of and entered a world order that wanted to treat these new states as if they did have such a nation.

      So, elites in these post-imperial states had to begin nation-building. Barry has a great series, soon to be enshrined as a Longform essay, on Turkish nationalism. James Gelvin, a historian at UCLA, has done some good work on nationalism in the Middle East (here is a review of one such work). In most of these cases, elites were secular-minded and inclusive. Elites in Iraq, Syria, and Iran, for example, made a concerted effort to protect the rights of Christians and women, even going so far as to include minorities in key aspects of governing these new states.

      Nation-building in the post-imperial world, though, has gone about as smoothly as it went in Europe a few centuries ago. My argument is that it would better – i.e. more libertarian – to make citizens out of these states by incorporating them into federal or confederal systems that have experience with large, disparate, democratically-governed populations.

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