Newt’s new Crusade against the Arab Spring

Newt Gingrich’s poll numbers and fund-raising have improved recently, as the GOP faithful continue their quest for an ABM (not anti-ballistic missile but “Anyone but Mitt”).

Gingrich in turn has begun trying out talking points again, which is good for pundits and stand-up comedians, but bad for everyone else.

In his most recent foray on Middle East policy, Gingrich tried to depict the Arab Spring as bad for Middle East Christians.

Weirdly, he began his attack on the 2011 protest movements in the Middle East by lamenting that the number of Christians in Iraq has fallen from 1.2 million to 500,000. He observed, “This is why the current strategy in the Middle East is such a total grotesque failure…. People say, ‘Oh, isn’t this great, we’re having an Arab spring.’ Well, I don’t know, I think we may in fact be having an anti-Christian spring. I think people should take this pretty soberly.”

As anyone with a brain will note, the Bush administration invasion and occupation of Iraq, which Gingrich helped plan out while on the Defense Advisory Board, is what caused Christians to have to leave Iraq. Christians weren’t the only ones. Millions of Iraqis at one time or another fled to Jordan, Syria and elsewhere, because Gingrich’s Republican Party kicked off a civil war in that country by creating a power vacuum. In addition, anti-American guerrillas unfairly conflated Iraqi Christians with American ones, and so attacked the former. I suspect there were about 800,000 Christians in Iraq before the invasion, and that half fled, mostly to Aleppo in Syria or to Beirut.

The foreign military conquest and occupation of Iraq took place in 2003 and has nothing to do with the Arab Spring. (No one among the activists ever even mentioned Iraq, except as a negative example. “Let’s not do that, it is what the Americans did in Iraq.”)

But if one took seriously Gingrich’s implicit suggestion that US foreign policy should be about Middle Eastern Christians, what policies would that produce?

First of all, the Christians of Syria are mostly declining to actively support the protest movement against the Baathist government of Bashar al-Assad.

Yuhanna Ibrahim, archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo told the Beirut-based The Daily Star this summer:
“To be honest, everybody’s worried . . . We don’t want what happened in Iraq to happen in Syria. We don’t want the country to be divided. And we don’t want Christians to leave Syria.”

Christians make up about 10% of Syria’s 22 million population. The big Christian neighborhoods of Aleppo and Damascus have seen no demonstrations against the regime. This attitude comes from the Baath Party’s embrace of secular Arab nationalism. The Baath ideology was invented by Christians. In an ideal Baathist society, the important thing is that you are Arab or think of yourself as Arab, and what religion you follow is irrelevant.

A lot of Iraqi Christians had felt the same way, and the lesson they take away from the Iraq debacle is that horrible things happen when Washington decides to get rid of a Baathist government.

Many Syrian Christians are afraid that if Bashar al-Assad falls, he will be succeeded by a Muslim fundamentalist regime that will reduce them to second-class citizens or even persecute them. (To be fair, the Syrian protesters have called on the Christians to join them, so they don’t seem anti-Christian, and they say they want rights for all).

So Newt’s Middle East policy is presumably to support the Baathist government of Syria against its foes, right? Isn’t that what a Gingrich would conclude would be good for Syria’s Christians?

Nope, Gingrich is a hawk on Syria, praising Rick Santorum’s stance on this subject. But Santorum wants President Obama to wave a magic wand and make al-Assad vanish.

So I guess the Arab Spring being bad for Middle East Christians doesn’t shape Gingrich’s Syria policy? Gingrich wants to deliver the Syrian Christians into the uncertain hands of the revolutionaries? Maybe even– gasp — the Muslim Brotherhood?

Then there are significant Christian Palestinian populations. Is Newt going to support these countrymen of Jesus of Nazareth against the Israeli settlers who are stealing their land and water?

Nope.

And what if it can be demonstrated that the attack on the Copts protesting in front of Cairo’s television station was orchestrated from behind the scenes by elements in the military government? Would Newt suddenly support the New Left organizations such as April 6 that are calling for the military to step down and go back to the barracks, and who have sponsored Christian-Muslim solidarity marches?

Nope.

Moreover, it seems likely that the Muslim Brotherhood will do well in the forthcoming parliamentary elections and will be in a ruling coalition. Since Gingrich considers the MB little short of Satan, how would a President Newt even be able to do Egypt policy? Is he just going to blow off the most populous and important country in the Middle East?

Middle Eastern Christians deserve a decent life and human rights like everyone else. But Gingrich is being silly if he advocates putting their interests first in US Middle East policy. There aren’t that many of them The largest group is the Egyptian Copts at 8 million or so. Less than a million left in Lebanon. About a million Palestinians. Some 2 million in Syria. Less than half a million in Iraq. Maybe 200,000 in Iran. And that is just about it– their numbers everywhere else are miniscule. They aren’t even big proportions of the countries where they reside. Less than 13 million in a region of about 420 million people (the Arab world plus Turkey and Iran).

Great Powers don’t behave the way that Gingrich is suggesting. They pursue their interests. Gingrich is only even bringing up Middle Eastern Christians as a ploy to get a hearing among evangelicals, who don’t mostly much care for his two divorces (not sure if they hold his recent embrace of Catholicism against him).

And Gingrich is wallowing in such bad faith that he doesn’t even take seriously his own policy, otherwise his attitudes toward Syria and Palestine would be completely different.

The irony is that most US evangelicals have never demonstrated the slightest interest in the welfare of Middle Eastern Christians, much preferring to support the Israelis. So Gingrich’s confused and hypocritical talking point probably wouldn’t even get him anywhere with them.

33 Responses

  1. Expecting US Presidential candidates of any religious or political persuasion to have joined up policies, especially foreign policies and even more especially MENA foreign policies is like expecting The Pope to announce he’s going to get married next week.

    Great post Juan – last week I had to practically waterboard another blogger to convince him that one of the founders of Ba’athism was a Lebanese Christian.

  2. Dear Professor Cole

    Would you care to explain what the Republican objection to Mr Romney is?

    I know the rest of the world would fall about laughing at the idea of wondering if the President of the US is wearing “Magic Underpants”. My Chinese colleagues were enthralled as I explained this to them.

    Is there anything more than simple objection to his underwear?

    • He is ideological unreliable. He keeps changing his positions for obvious political benefits, whenever he finds it convenient, and they don’t trust him to govern as a conservative.

      For instance, he ran for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in 1994 as a pro-life Republican, who promised that he would be better on gay rights than Kennedy.

      He presided over the passage of a health care reform bill as governor of Massachusetts that was very similar to the Affordable Care Act, which he now claims to oppose.

  3. Is it possible to discuss the plight of the Copts and other Middle Eastern Christian groups without subordinating it to the issue of Newt Gingrich’s presidential ambitions (which are hardly likely to lead anywhere)? Really, I would appreciate hearing your views on what, if anything, ought to be done to protect them. And not only the Christians, but the ‘Alawi in Syria probably have excellent reasons for avoiding the tender mercies of Arab “democracy.” (Democracy doesn’t work very well when its electorate doesn’t constitute a coherent “people.”)

    • Democracy doesn’t really work very well at all. I find it ironic that Americans blindly support a system that has let “99%”of them down (if you trust the OWS figures, personally I would say probably 80-90% but I won’t quibble). Democraticly elected governments have passed laws allowing corporations to have equality to human beings, allowing special interest groups to steer foreign and/or domestic policy as well as many other laws that do nothing positive for the masses.
      Some people argue that democracy has created a lot of wealth for a lot of people. True, but so did the Islamic sharia system of the late 7th and early 8th century. I doubt the average citizen was worse off, including Christians and Jews, in that peroid then the average joe in America today.

      • Yusef, its not liberal democracy that doesn’t work, it’s neo-liberal economics that doesn’t work.

        And don’t believe those those who say you can’t have one without the other

        China practices Marxist economics within a totalitarian state. Saudi Arabia practices neo-liberal economics within a totalitarian state. The USA practices neo-liberal economics within a liberal democracy. Norway practices Marxist economics within a liberal democracy.

        Which one of those countries rates #1 on the latest UN Human Development Index – Norway.

        Case rests

        • Nd yet, Oliver, Norway (or any other democratic country) is just an election away from becoming a bad example of democracy rather then a good example. The fundamental flaw with democracy is that the ones who decide have virtually no knowledge about how to solve the issues. As you are well aware, running a nation is complicated and being a good speaker or being able to run a convincing campaign does not nessisairily qualify one to be a good president or PM

  4. Gingrich is just going the demagogic way of Muslim bashing – that’s in a nutshell. Portraying the upheavals in the Arab world as a war between religions is disingenuous and the hallmark of a scoundrel politician.

    • Gingrich doesn’t believe 90% of what he says. he is almost as bad as Romney. Newt is just pandering to the christianists in the Republican base.

  5. The Lebanon has a large Christian population (about 35%) who I assume have suffered as much as anyone under Israel’s invasions and bombing raids. I’ve read in a few places online that the largest Christian political party the Free Patriotic Movement are openly allied with Hizbollah, who in turn transmit Sunday mass live on Al-Manar TV. It’s not something you ever see mentioned in the routine demonisation of Hizbollah as a fanatically anti-western and ant-Christian movement. I don’t know how significant this alliance is. Maybe there are others?

    • Whilst the majority of FPM supporters are Christian, some of its party membership does come from the Shia community. Not sure if any FPM Parliamentary Members are Shia.

      Lebanon has not had a census for 80 years, we know there have been large numbers who’ve emigrated – especially from the Christian Marounite and Sunni communities. So I take figures on the relative sizes of the different Lebanese communities with a shovelful of salt.

  6. Perhaps Newt could enlighten us all about the decline in numbers of Christians in Palestine/Israel and let us know whether, in his opinion, the outflow of Christians which began about 1948 was due to the Arab Spring or due to — could it be? — another cause.

    • He’s had a lot of company, over the years — PhDeople pushing Manifest Destiny and Exceptionalism and nativism and even national socialism and LeninStalinism, among other virtueless notions. A degree does not equal an honorable conscience or, of course, wisdom.

      • “He received a B.A. in history from Emory University in Atlanta in 1965. He received an M.A. in 1968, and then a PhD in modern European history from Tulane University in New Orleans in 1971.[10] His dissertation was entitled “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo: 1945–1960″. While at Tulane, Gingrich, who at the time belonged to no religious group, began attending the St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church to pursue an interest in the effect of religion on political theory; he was soon baptized by Rev. G. Avery Lee.[11] In 1970, Gingrich was appointed an Assistant Professor in the history department at West Georgia College (now the University of West Georgia) in Carrollton. In 1974 he moved to the geography department. While at West Georgia, Gingrich was instrumental in establishing an inter-disciplinary Environmental Studies program. He left at the end of the 1977–1978 academic year. He also taught a class, Renewing American Civilization, at Kennesaw State University (then called Kennesaw State College) in 1993.[12]”
        link to en.wikipedia.org
        His dissertation was entitled “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo: 1945–1960″ I am curious to read this. I would like to know what improvements the Belgians had made in their education policy since their war that shall not be mentioned.

        • I’m sorry, who the hell does their dissertation in 1971 on “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo: 1945–1960″ WTF!

  7. “Then there are significant Christian Palestinian populations. Is Newt going to support these countrymen of Jesus of Nazareth against the Israeli settlers who are stealing their land and water?”

    Good one, Professor.

  8. Middle Eastern Christians deserve a decent life and human rights like everyone else. But Gingrich is being silly if he advocates putting their interests first in US Middle East policy. There aren’t that many of them The largest group is the Egyptian Copts at 8 million or so. Less than a million left in Lebanon. About a million Palestinians. Some 2 million in Syria. Less than half a million in Iraq. Maybe 200,000 in Iran. And that is just about it– their numbers everywhere else are miniscule. They aren’t even big proportions of the countries where they reside. Less than 13 million in a region of about 420 million people (the Arab world plus Turkey and Iran).

    Fewer than 13 million? There are fewer than 8 million Jewish people in the region.

    The United States has an explicit commitment, that Barack Obama describes as unbreakable, that the small number of Jewish people has an militarily unchallengeable majority state in their region of 420 million people even at the cost of supporting dictatorship for everyone else.

    This is not a Republican issue. Neither George Bush, Newt Gingrich nor Herman Cain is fundamentally worse on the Middle East than Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or John Kerry.

    A country that wants to overrule 420 million people’s assessment of the legitimacy of Israel has to do it in the evil ways we see the United States behaving in the Middle East today.

    Either Juan Cole would subordinate the interests of 420 million people to those of 6 million people, or Juan Cole could not be president of the United States. Democrat or Republican.

    • Fewer than 13 million? There are fewer than 8 million Jewish people in the region.

      But they 1) control a country, and 2) aren’t scattered across the region, existing as a small minority everywhere.

      • Joe, the point I was making was that US Democrats are no better than US Republicans like Gingrich.

        Cole’s criticism of Gingrich – if Gingrich had proposed focusing on 13 million Christians and if that criticism was valid – would have been more valid against the entire Democratic and Republican US political establishment applied to Jews who are smaller in number in the region.

        So what was the point you were trying to make?

    • Nice follow on to another great posting.

      I wonder if the ruling class of those 6 million people is in any way aligned with the one tenth of one percent generalized to the 1% in American parlance?

      There are puppets and then there are the puppet masters.

  9. [...] University filed against Catholic University of America. Juan Cole, meanwhile, points out how Gingrich’s stated policy preferences on the matter are incoherent, and he’s obviously just playing for evangelical votes in South Carolina. The idea that the [...]

  10. All I know for certain is that both the Democratic and Republican parties are corrupt and controlled by the Dictators, the 1%’ers. Obama, dictator or puppet?

    Please correct me if I’m wrong—-no Republican has any chance of becoming the President.

    I also doubt that a Democrat has a reasonable chance if the majority of Americans wake up to the fact that the mass news media is a puppet to the 1%’ers, the dictators.

    The bailing out of banks, corporation and the continuing news of executives receiving outrageous bonus or making millions of dollars by selling stocks before they start
    dropping in price are outright crimes. All such bonus and stock sales are illegal and the billions of dollars must be collected and returned to the American people and the criminals jailed for life. White collar crime is more serious than murder, more individuals are seriously injured.

    All Congress is corrupt. One of the goals of the OWS, Occupy Wall Street Movement is to stop the corruption and the control of our government by the 1%’ers, the Dictator billionaires, the Wall Street and Corporation Maggots and their puppets: most of Congress, the military generals,
    the corrupt mass news media and the many unconscious Americans that only listen to the mass news media and do not even know about juancole.com, Truthdig, The Nation,
    DailyKos, Tomdispatch.com, MichaelHudson’s Middle East Institute, Kevin Drum’s Mother Jones, Salon.com, Think Progress and many other sources of true information, news.

  11. A large portion of Middle East Christians belong to the very oldest churches- Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, and Armenian. When was the last time a Great Power came to the aid of these Christians? Culturally, they are a world apart from US evangelicals.

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