Faith-Based POTUS Tourism
by David Anderson, J.D.
For his inaugural trip abroad our President has picked an unpredictable but thematically consistent itinerary. He’ll be stopping at the Vatican, presumably without the whole kerfuffle of a state visit in Italy, then on to Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The commonality is that they are three of the very few countries which are legally legitimized entirely by religion. Saudi Arabia is founded on Islam: its monarchs are “Guardians of the Holy Places,” its legal system is Sharia, and not wishy-washy “based on Islamic principles” like a Morocco or a Qatar, but hand and head chopping, boozeless, women in beekeeper suits Sharia. Its constitution is the Koran, its brand of Islam is Wahhabism-Salafism – the sharp end of Islamic fundamentalism. The main purpose of Trump’s visit is a photo shoot with those cool sheikhs in their billowing desert finery, and Melania in a Hermes headscarf: quite a scene, but geopolitically it is to cower Iran. Tormenting Iran is easy with this stopover because the Gulf Sunnis like Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran are mortal enemies.
The Vatican, another religious state, isn’t that much of a surprise given this president. His closest non-family adviser, Steve Bannon, is a very hard if not very devout Catholic who believes in a civilizational war between Christendom and Islam. Bannon attends conferences at the Vatican. With this trip though, again, the main purpose is a photo-op with a world celebrity of equal rank to POTUS. Presidents love those opportunities and every one since JKF has enjoyed a grinning handshake with the Pontiff. For similar reasons, later, Trump plans to visit the UK to meet the Queen – another must-click moment common to all presidents.
And Israel, naturally. Let it not be said this is pandering to Jews. There are 7M Jews in the United States, the great majority of whom are liberals and vote Democrat. True Ivanka Trump and her husband Jerald Kushner are Orthodox Jews, but any pandering to Israel by American politicians, particularly Republicans, is not support for Jews. Israel is indeed a firm ally and the only real democracy in the area, so for those reasons alone we are obliged to support it.
But there are 90 million other reasons to explain America’s devotion to Zionism. That’s the number of Evangelical Christians for whom the return of Jesus can’t happen until Armageddon, and for that happy day, the Holy Land must be in Jewish hands. As per prophesy the Jewish-Christian Evangelical alliance falls apart spectacularly and unhappily at the moment of Armageddon: that’s when all the Jews will be killed. Its Biblical woo-woo on a level that would astound even Deepak Chopra and the kind of thinking that has made the Holy Land the largest open air mental hospital on earth. Be that as it may, Evangelicals vote on side with this magical thinking, so this administration has set AF One’s flight path straight to Tel Aviv.
With more photo ops: the Wailing Wall, Dome of the Rock, assorted crosses and handshakes with Likud politicians like Netanyahu. Its doubtful President Trump will try and mix up his visit with anything even remotely Palestinian.
Candidate Trump promised to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Thankfully he’s walked that back so it is encouraging he listened to the experts on the danger of this seemingly innocuous move. It may sound like small potatoes, but its big potatoes – deep fried latkes, actually. Moving an embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is signaling an endorsement of Israel’s post-1967 boundaries – basically the entire West Bank and Gaza – which is way out of step with the international community, the UN, and would drive the Islamosphere bonkers.
This trip is a tip of the hat to “faith” of all flavors for a president who evidently wants to be the Dealmaker in Chief of monotheism. It’s the perfect combination of publicity, muscling Iran, and a sop to his Christian base here. Countries whose foundations are based on medieval superstition and religious tribalism are rarely democratic: only Israel comes close with its ethical and political calisthenics. Then again democracy or ethics aren’t this administration’s first priorities.
David Anderson is an Australian-American attorney in New York City. He studied Middle East politics at the University of Melbourne and Georgetown University. He also contributes to Forbes, Counterpunch.org and democracychronicals.org.