Thursday, January 24, 2008

What Does Mike Huckabee Have to do With the Apocalypse?

Recent polls show the previously little-known Mike Huckabee now running a close race with contenders Mitt Romney and John McCain. Huckabee, who won the key Iowa race, owes his rising star to a surge of support from evangelicals. Comprising about 25% of Americans, evangelicals have formed the core Republican voting bloc since the 1970s. While most Americans are aware of the "family values" domestic concerns of this group, fewer understand its foreign policy agenda, which is tied to the powerful, yet little-understood phenomenon of Christian Zionism. Rooted in a literal interpretation of biblical "End Times" prophecy, this ideology carries profound implications for our role in the Middle East, and it is a crucial factor in the 2008 Republican race.

Christian Zionism stems from the belief that the catastrophic events depicted in the biblical Book of Revelation are humanity's literal destiny, and that two-thirds of the Earth's population will perish in an apocalyptic battle of good and evil while the "saved" are "raptured up" to heaven. For Christian Zionists, this catastrophe is a necessary precedent to the Second Coming. Followers of this ideology comprise an estimated 20 million Americans, a number that grew rapidly after September 11 and increased Mideast violence within recent years. Aided by a surge in sales of books such as the best-selling Left Behind series, which portrays Revelation as a modern-day battle, the view of Mideast violence as an apocalyptic "sign of the times" is rapidly gaining ground. Significantly, Huckabee has received an endorsement from Left Behind author and leading Christian Zionist Tim LaHaye.

While those outside of evangelical circles may dismiss such beliefs, they have played a critical role in influencing U.S. foreign policy, and they will continue to affect policy as long as the United States remains under Republican leadership that relies upon evangelical support. Christian Zionism has implications for the U.S. role in Israeli-Palestinian relations, a potential confrontation with Iran, and relations with the Muslim world.

For Christian Zionists, belief in biblical prophecy means support for right-wing Israeli policies such as settlement expansion and opposition to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Against the opinion of most Israelis, Christian Zionists view relinquishing any part of biblical Israel--including what is now the West Bank--as an affront to Israel's prophetic destiny. Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor who once declared "I got into politics because I knew government didn't have the real answers…the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ," vowing in another speech to "take this nation back for Christ," shares this view. He has written that "the Jews have the God-given right to reclaim land given to their ancestors and taken away from them." Regarding a future Palestinian state, Huckabee has stated that he supports a Palestinian state--and it should be formed far away from Israel, perhaps in Saudi Arabia. This view is a step away from advocating ethnic cleansing, as it is unlikely that the Palestinians would voluntarily leave.

Evangelical foreign policy extends far beyond Israel. Inspired by the "Iranian threat," evangelical pastor John Hagee formed Christians United for Israel, which promotes Christian Zionism and advocates a militant policy toward Iran. In his book Jerusalem Countown, Hagee predicts a nuclear showdown with Iran that could be "the beginning of the end." Huckabee, who has said that Congressional approval is not necessary in going to war, argues that the U.S. must do "whatever it takes" to confront Iran, including a military option. If elected, it is likely that his evangelical backers will pressure Huckabee to pursue this option.

Like other evangelicals, Huckabee tends to view the "War on Terror" as a cataclysmic battle with apocalyptic connotations. "We need to understand that this is, in fact World War III," he has said. "Unlike any other war we've ever fought, this one is one we cannot afford to lose."

Whether or not Christian Zionists can predict the future, the human potential to create self-fulfilling prophesies is undeniable, and this is why Americans should pay attention to this ideology.

Valerie Saturen received an M.A. in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Arizona. Her thesis addressed Christian Zionism and U.S. foreign policy. Contact her at

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This story was published on January 23, 2008.

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