Whoa. That’s something George W. Bush never did. Bush never said he had a Christian duty to stand with Israel, because to say such a thing would have been stupid and dangerous. By framing U.S. foreign policy in terms of a religious alliance between Christians and Jews, Perry is validating the propaganda of Islamic extremists. He’s jeopardizing peace, Israel, and the United States.
It may not be something that Bush said publicly, but it was likely part of his thinking. More to the point, this is a common view among a significant number of evangelical and other Christians, and Perry has made a concerted effort to identify himself as one of these people. This is the view espoused by CUFI activists, and it is one that would meet with few objections even among secular “pro-Israel” Republicans because it is useful for mobilizing support for their preferred policies. The main reason that an organization such as CUFI exists is the belief that its members have that they have a primarily religious obligation to lend political support to a small eastern Mediterranean secular state because of the ethnic identity of the majority of its population. That is far from being a consensus view among conservative Christians, and it isn’t a defensible one, but I would have been much more surprised had Perry not given the answer that he did.
Let’s consider the main claim that Perry makes. He says he has a “clear directive” as a Christian to support Israel. That suggests that he believes there is some obvious and authoritative command from God to do this, and presumably this means that somewhere in Scripture this directive can be found. Tendentious readings of Old Testament passages aside, there is no such “clear” directive, and there is no way that there could be. The most troubling thing about Perry’s answer is not that it validates jihadist propaganda. That propaganda would likely frame the actions of largely post-Christian Western governments in terms of crusades in any case, and in the end it is the willingness of those governments to invade and bomb Muslim countries that is a far more important factor in stoking hostility abroad.
What is obnoxious is that Perry takes it as a tenet of his faith that he ought to endorse a particularly close relationship with another state. The “clear directive” doesn’t leave room for considerations of national interest or changed circumstances. That suggests that he would support that relationship in its current form no matter how costly it might become to the U.S., and it would mean that there is virtually nothing that an Israeli government could do that would make him change his position. Then again, there is something a bit more honest in straightforwardly admitting to uncritical and reflexive loyalty instead of pretending that support depends on supposed strategic value or shared political values.
Perry’s statement reminded me of something Eric Cantor said a couple of years back. Cantor told a CUFI gathering that “we must insist as Americans that our policies be firmly grounded in the beliefs of the Judeo-Christian tradition upon which this country was founded.” Cantor’s formulation was more indirect and was making a more general argument on the basis of cultural tradition rather than religious obligation, but it goes without saying that Cantor’s audience would have held a view very much like Perry’s. This is the foundation for much of what popular support there is for U.S. policy towards Israel. It’s long past time that we stopped treating it as if it were some shockingly new or unfamiliar belief.