American Foreign Policy - Ancient Influences
In examining American foreign policy, which in its current form is one of pre-emptive intervention commonly referred to as the Bush Doctrine; it is important to look at historical influences on this policy.
Seeing as how the targets of Americaâ€™s foreign policy have shifted from a secular ideology in communism with the fall of the Soviet Union to a religious based adversary that is often referred to as Islamofascism it is important to look at important religious figures in a historical context.
Abraham (nee Abram) is viewed as the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and is viewed as a prophet in both Judaism and Islam and as the father in faith of Christianity. According to the Torah, Abraham was born in ancient Mesopotamia. Most scholars place the location of his birth in what is now Iraq though some dispute that and instead place it in what is now southeastern Turkey. Abraham migrated with his wife Sarah (nee Sarai) to the land of Canaan and entered into a covenant with Yahweh whereby Abraham would recognize Yahweh as the one true God and in return be blessed with progeny â€œas numerous as the stars in heavenâ€. These descendents of Abraham would also be given the land where Abraham was dwelling at the time of the covenant which tradition holds is present day Jerusalem. At the time of the covenant Abraham and Sarah were aged and childless. As Sarah was infertile she gave her Egyptian servant Hagar, daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh, to Abraham to produce an heir. The child of their union would be Abrahamâ€™s first born son, Ishmael. Ishmael is regarded by Muslims as a direct ancestor of Mohammed. In jealousy Sarah would drive Hagar and Ishmael away from their house. At the time of the covenant of circumcision (which is practiced in both Judaism and Islam), Abraham was promised innumerable heirs directly through Sarah. Sarah would later give birth to Isaac who is regarded as the ancestor of all Israelites as his son Jacob would have twelve sons from whom the twelve tribes of Israel are descended. After the death of Sarah, Abraham would have more children with his concubine Keturah. The children of Keturah, like the children of Hagar, are Semitic people. It is through these relationships with Abraham that both Islamic and Judaic people trace their religions and their claims to the lands of the Middle East.
Moses was born in Egypt to the Levite tribe and raised in the household of the Pharaoh. Moses is considered the greatest prophet in Judaism. He received the 10 Commandments from God and is credited as the writer of the Torah, the holiest of Jewish writings. Moses is mentioned more than any other Old Testament figure in the New Testament and is regarded as a saint and prophet by different Christian denominations. Moses is also the most mentioned prophet in the Quran.
Jesus is a descendant of Abraham through the House of David. He was a Jew who taught a new covenant which opened up the possibility of redemption to all people and not just the descendants of Abraham through Sarah. His followers during His lifetime were all Jews and He fell into disfavor with those Jews in power who looked upon His teachings as a threat to the order of the day and their control of their society. He was regarded by His followers as the Messiah who was foretold in the prophesy of Isaiah. Jesus Christ is a combination of his name Jesus and the Greek word for Messiah which is Christos. His followers became known as Christians and are an offshoot of Judaism. The vast majority of modern day Jews reject the idea of Jesus as the Messiah, whom they still await. The vast majority of modern day Christians are awaiting the second coming of Jesus as a fulfillment of the Biblical Messianic prophesy. Moslems view Jesus as one of the most important prophets in Islam. Most Christians believe that salvation can not be achieved without explicit recognition of Jesus as the Messiah. President George W. Bush has called Jesus his favorite philosopher.
Mohammed was born in the city of Mecca in about the year 570. He is viewed by Muslims as the last prophet of God (Allah in Arabic) and by non-Muslims as the founder of Islam. At about the age of 40 he became disillusioned with life in Mecca and went to a cave to meditate during the month of Ramadan where he first heard the word of God. Islamic tradition holds that in 621 he ascended into heaven accompanied by the angel Gabriel to meet with the prophets and receive the word of God, which would continue to be revealed to him in coming years. This was done from the spot in Jerusalem where Abraham was to have sacrificed his son Isaac (Muslims believe it was Ishmael that was to have been sacrificed) and where the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the First Temple. According to the Quran, Mohammed is said to have been instantly transported from Mecca to Jerusalem on this night. Today the Dome of the Rock, one of Islamâ€™s holiest shrines, stands on this spot. After these events Mohammed would begin to proclaim that â€œGod is Oneâ€ and that complete surrender to God is the only acceptable religion. Mohammed would die in Medina in 632. Of additional significance to present day American foreign policy is Mohammedâ€™s grandson Husayn ibn Ali who is the viewed as the third Imam of the Shiâ€™a Muslims. It is Husaynâ€™s martyrdom that began the split between the Shiâ€™a and the Sunni Muslims that continues to this day. Sunnis make up approximately 85% of all Muslims and are the predominate sect in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and most of the Arab world. Shiâ€™a are between 10 and 15% of Muslims but are the dominate group in Iraq and Iran. It should also be noted that Iranians are not ethnic Arabs but rather Persians.
Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus was emperor of Rome from 306 until his death in 337. He was the first Christian emperor of Rome. He was exposed to Christianity by his mother and it is debated as to whether he converted to Christianity in his youth or he gradually accepted it as he grew older. He was over 40 years old when he declared himself a Christian. At the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 Constantine allegedly looked at the sun and saw a cross with the words â€œBy this conquerâ€ above it. He had his troops adorn their shields with the cross and they were victorious. In 313 his Edict of Milan declared tolerance for Christianity ending the persecution of Christians and returning their seized property to them. In his writings to Christians he proclaimed that his successes were attributable to his faith and protection by God. These events were extremely important in the history of Christianity and are often viewed as the beginning of Christendom as it then became not only acceptable but important for secular political leaders to become members of the church. Constantine supported the church financially and appointed church leaders to important political positions. The influence of these political leaders and Constantineâ€™s position as emperor and leader of the army caused the leaders of the church to move away from their traditional teachings of non-violence and accepting martyrdom rather than violent resistance to their oppressors to pursuing an agenda that included the use of force to obtain power and influence within their community and throughout the world.
Born in Algeria of Berber descent in 354, Augustine of Hippo is one of the most important scholars in history of Christianity. His concepts of original sin and just war have been extremely influential in both Catholic and Protestant denominations. His concept of a just war is an effort to address the absolute pacifist strain of Christian teaching in an effort to allow for one to defend oneself as opposed to â€œturning the other cheekâ€. To Augustine war was only justified in very narrow circumstances. These include but are not limited to having a just cause, legitimate authority, proportionality, the use of minimal force and the use of force as a last resort. Throughout history many aggressors have sought to legitimize their bellicosity by exaggerating various elements of the just war theory. Neither the Catholic Church nor Americaâ€™s largest confederation of Protestant denominations, the National Council of Churches believe that the current conflict in Iraq can be justified under Augustine's just war theory.
These are obviously no more than short biographies of these historical figures. I encourage anyone who is interested to research them and their relationships to each other further. I also encourage questions and discussion on how each of them affects our current foreign policy and the validity of that influence to our Constitutional government.
Next - Medieval and colonial influences