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Juan Cole

President Bachmann: Another Mideast Messiah

Juan Cole
Contributor
Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and the proprietor of the Informed Comment e-zine. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in…
Juan Cole

Michele Bachmann narrowly won the Iowa straw poll this past weekend, ending the presidential bid of her fellow Minnesotan, Tim Pawlenty, and positioning herself as a serious contender for the presidency of the United States. Although her chances of winning a general election seem low, it is time to review her foreign policy stances. The little that can be gleaned from her positions is self-contradictory, going back and forth between isolationism and militarism. But the militarism seems to trump other values for her, suggesting she could easily be captured by the neoconservatives.

Bachmann made waves in June when she said in an interview, “I’m tired of Afghanistan and Iraq, too. I think we need to get out. I think Afghanistan is — on many, many levels, it doesn’t seem we’re gaining any ground. I want to reduce U.S. exposure in Afghanistan. So, let’s get them [U.S. troops] out as quickly as we can.” This quote is often now taken out of context, and in conjunction with her opposition to the NATO intervention in Libya, to suggest that she is a neo-isolationist.

But other statements make it clear that Bachmann is actually no more eager to get out of Afghanistan and Iraq than are the Joint Chiefs of Staff — that, indeed, she would defer to them and let them set the pace: “I don’t think it’s fair for Congress members to usurp our decision-making over that of the generals on the ground. It’s very important that the generals and also the intelligence-gathering sources get that information up to the commander in chief, whether it’s George Bush or whether it’s Barack Obama.” She concluded her remarks about getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan by saying, “But at the same time, I don’t want to tell the generals when they’re going to get out. That really needs to be the experts.”

The cynical could easily conclude that Bachmann wants to have it both ways, attempting to appeal at the same time to the hawks and to the isolationists. By expressing her war fatigue and simultaneously deferring absolutely to the officer corps, she gives herself an out if she wants to prolong the wars indefinitely. Worryingly, she seems not to understand or value the principle of civilian control over the military, ceding decision-making to the Pentagon.

Bachmann’s caution on the wars is not exemplified in her other foreign policy positions, which have an often messianic overtone. She has lambasted the Obama administration for not taking a stronger stance against Iran, which she characterizes as having announced an intention to bomb Israel (it has not). She has praised the opposition Iranian political cult, the People’s Holy Warriors (Mojahedin-e Khalq or MEK), which has been listed for some years by the State Department as a terrorist organization (and rightly so).

Bachmann recently alleged that Iran had been “delivered a nuclear warhead” (this assertion, like many of Bachmann’s bromides, is simply untrue). That Bachmann would be a hawk on Iran, favoring at least covert intervention, probably via the MEK, and perhaps even military action, is clear from her speeches on the subject.

Bachmann does not have so much a policy toward Israel as a posture of obeisance. She told the Republican Jewish Coalition of Los Angeles in February 2010:

I am convinced in my heart and in my mind that if the United States fails to stand with Israel, that is the end of the United States. … [W]e have to show that we are inextricably entwined, that as a nation we have been blessed because of our relationship with Israel, and if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play. And my husband and I are both Christians, and we believe very strongly the verse from Genesis [Genesis 12:3], we believe very strongly that nations also receive blessings as they bless Israel. It is a strong and beautiful principle.

Bachmann appears to believe that God’s blessings on Abraham were actually intended for the Likud Party of Benjamin Netanyahu in contemporary Israel. This theology of Israeli infallibility probably was influenced by Jan Markell of Olive Tree Ministries, with which Bachmann has had a long relationship. Christian Zionists’ fondness for Israel is bittersweet, since it is wrought up with a belief that the end of the world is around the corner, at which time Jews will become Christians.

Her religious doctrine — that not standing 100 percent with Tel Aviv policy would bring curses upon the United States — may in part have underlain her sharp reaction to President Obama’s call in June for Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of 1967 borders plus territorial swaps (a longstanding U.S. position). She protested:

America has stood with Israel since President Harry Truman recognized Israel a mere 11 minutes after Israel became a state in 1948. But during his tenure as president of the United States, President Obama has initiated a policy which shows contempt for Israel’s concern and safety. In an era dubbed the “Arab Spring” we have seen increased volatility in the Middle East region, and President Obama has only added to the heightened hostility by calling on Israel to return to the 1967 borders. I disagree with President Obama and I stand with our friend Israel 100 percent.

Bachmann has characterized U.S. aid to the poverty-stricken Palestinians of Gaza, who are not allowed by the Israeli occupation authority that controls their borders to export their made goods, as “standing with Ahmadinejad and Hamas.”

Her fear-mongering toward Muslims, whether at home or abroad, promises bad relations with the Muslim world should she be elected, especially NATO ally Turkey, but also Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Jordan and others.

A President Bachmann might or might not get out of Iraq and wind down the Afghanistan War (apparently her fatigue with those efforts could easily be countermanded by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff). But she seems to be looking for other conflicts, especially with Iran. And clearly she would write a blank check of support to the far-right government of Netanyahu for any military adventures it would like to initiate. Bachmann is the furthest thing from an isolationist or a peacenik. Rather, the messianic and irrational (not to mention the inaccurate) bases of her foreign policy positions toward the Middle East lend themselves to the launching of further wars in the region, something that should have been made clear by the last president we elected who felt he had a God-given mission in that region.

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