Strange bedfellows: conservative Christians and the Bush administration are aggressively pushing a controversial `pro-family' agenda on the international stage--and they're teaming up with Islamic theocracies to do it.

Author:Benen, Steve

Sudan, an Islamic theocracy in Northeast Africa, is classified by the U.S. State Department as a "state sponsor of terrorism." The Sudanese earned this status, reserved for only a handful of American adversaries, after providing sanctuary to Osama bin Laden, who operated a network of terrorists from that country from 1993 to 1996 while backing Sudan's theocratic military dictatorship.

Sudan has also drawn the ire of the international community for permitting widespread slavery and repeated human rights abuses. A year ago, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom described the nation as "the world's most violent abuser of the right to freedom of religion and belief."

Nevertheless, at the United Nations, Sudan and the United States have repeatedly been on the same page lately. The U.S. has joined with Sudan--and a host of other Islamic countries--to undercut the international consensus on issues ranging from children's health to women's rights and global family planning.

Since his inauguration, President George W. Bush has adopted a firm stance on the U.S. relationship with countries around the globe. In an approach some have labeled the "Bush Doctrine," the president has made clear that in a post-Sept. 11 world, "you're either with us, or you're against us."

Since the terrorist attacks of last fall, the U.S. has had little trouble differentiating between our friends and foes on the global effort to prevent terrorism. Countries like England, Canada and France have offered reliable support for our military and diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere. In contrast, several countries, including Sudan, Syria, Libya, Iran and Iraq--the latter two composing part of what Bush calls an "axis of evil"--maintain strained relations with the United States for their suspected part in aiding terrorism.

On a growing number of international policy issues, however, the roles are entirely reversed. Under pressure from the Religious Right and its cohorts, the Bush administration has made allies of our enemies and adversaries of our friends.

This new international dynamic is part of a concerted strategy. Most of the Religious Right's international goals--undermining children's and women's rights while limiting access to abortion and family planning--are now formally being adopted by the White House, which is promoting these objectives at international forums.

In the process, the Bush administration is blurring the line between religious dogma and governmental policy. While these tactics are beginning to raise the ire of many Americans and U.S. allies, the developments are welcome news to American fundamentalist Christians, leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and several Islamic theocracies, which are delighted to see the Bush White House embrace such a controversial agenda.

Since Bush became president, many have recognized the Religious Right's high-profile role as "insiders" in Washington's official government corridors. What is less well known is the Religious Right's success in translating its White House access into international policy at venues such as the United Nations. By collaborating with the Bush administration and Islamic and Catholic allies, the Religious Right has turned its U.S. "culture war" into an international battle that impacts families around the world.

The shift in focus to foreign policy concerns came about as Christian conservatives realized that some of their key issues were being debated in other countries, and with an ideological ally in the Oval Office, they could exert influence to help shape the debate to their liking. In some cases, Religious Right leaders learned they could work on these issues with less effort and greater success than has been true on the domestic front.

"The American electorate was split right down the middle on these cultural wars, and nobody was going to win them," Richard Cizik, Washington director of the National Association of Evangelicals, told The New York Times. Explaining a shift in emphasis to international policies, Cizik said conservative Christians' work overseas is "going gangbusters."

Political pragmatism also leads domestic religious strategists to work with countries and leaders they might otherwise abhor.

"We look at [Islamic theocracies] as allies, not necessarily as friends," Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, told The Washington Post. "We have realized that without countries like Sudan, abortion would have been recognized as a universal human right in a U.N. document."

The most startling difference between domestic fights over social issues and international debates is the opposition the Religious Right and its government allies face in this country.

In the United States, when the Bush administration works in concert with the Religious Right on legislative proposals, an organized opposition--including progressive politicians, nonprofit organizations and an inquisitive media--exists to criticize the efforts. White House officials and right-wing religious leaders realize that an aggressive agenda that reflects a rigid religious ideology will face stiff resistance.


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