U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo set out last week on his anti-Iran tour of the Middle East, which seemed on its face designed to move the focus off the Saudis’ murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But there was far more underpinning his effort.
When Pompeo announced in Cairo that Iran is “the greatest threat of all in the Middle East,” he found a welcoming audience in Iran’s Sunni rival Saudi Arabia, and in the Saudis’ Sunni allies in Egypt and elsewhere in the region (though many in the Middle East consider Saudi Arabia the greatest threat).
But as the New York Times reported on January 14th, when former Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie was asked about U.S. policy in the Middle East, he described Pompeo as having “tunnel vision” when it came to Iran.
There’s at least one clear reason for that tunnel vision: Israel. Pompeo, like U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, is an evangelical Christian. And both Pompeo and Pence, like the majority of evangelical Christians, are also “Christian Zionists” — that is, they believe that the Second Coming of Christ is predicated on the Jewish people occupying all of the Holy Land. For a Christian Zionist, this would necessitate both supporting Israel in countering whomever they see as an enemy, and also in closing out any possibility of Palestinians achieving a state of their own.
Donald Trump is just about the furthest thing imaginable from an evangelical. So, why in the world would he allow a Christian Zionist world view to drive U.S. foreign policy, even to the point of risking major wars? The answer is simple. One quarter of the U.S. adult population is evangelical Christian, and 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016. As Trump faces greater and greater legal and political peril, he is evermore dependent on that voting block.