Foreign Policy: Working with Others

Posted on August 8, 2013 at 11:22 am,

This is the latest in our series of posts critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. Today we’re in our second of five posts covering the chapter on foreign policy. Today we’re looking at two things. Firstly, the subject of the United Nations, and secondly, Grudem’s claim that Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been helping America’s enemies and hindering its friends.

The United Nations

Grudem begins this section by saying that the UN is the only effective forum where representatives of all nations can meet, negotiate, and debate, and so the US has no choice but to stay actively involved with it. He then says that:

If the United States were to pull out, the United Nations’ decisions and policies would become even more forcefully anti-democratic and anti-American

He claims that a block of Muslim nations, aided by “dictatorial” or “autocratic” nations like North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and sometimes Russia and China and some anti-democratic African nations form a “significant majority” of UN members who are anti-American and anti-Israel (Grudem outlines a strongly pro-Israel stance later in the chapter).

He then goes on to allege that the way the UN spends its money is incredibly corrupt, although he does acknowledge that it does some good (citing education, science, cultural exchange, and peacekeeping missions).

Grudem believes that the US should seek to minimise the influence of the UN where it is “bringing harmful and destructive results throughout the world”, and that they should be aggressive in building alternative associations of freedom-loving nations in the world as some form of counter-balance.

I believe that the picture Grudem paints of the UN is somewhat skewed. Most of the UN’s decision-making powers are vested in the Security Council, where the US and two of its allies (Britain and France) have permanent seats that come with veto powers. Therefore, there will never be an anti-American UN Resolution. Secondly, in order to check Grudem’s claims, I had a look at the number of democracies in the world, and found that, as of the year 2000, the World Forum on Democracy classified 120 out of the world’s 192 countries as democracies and 85 of them as “liberal democracies” (i.e. countries that are both free and respectful of human rights). Since then, there have been solid moves towards democracy in a number of countries. So Grudem’s claim that a “significant majority” of UN members are anti-democratic looks hyperbolic at best.

As for claims of corruption, Grudem is probably closer to the mark. There have been reports finding widespread corruption in the organisation, and limited accountability. But surely the response to this should be to press for reform of the structures in order to bring people to account.

Obama’s Foreign Policy

Grudem alleges that American foreign policy since Obama took office in 2009 meant abandoning America’s allies and helping their enemies. He goes through some examples, which we’ll look at in turn:


In 2009, there were serious allegations of vote rigging in Iran’s Presidential elections (Grudem uses the phrase “shamelessly stole”). Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets. Grudem believes that the protesters were hoping for US support in “the court of world opinion”, and that Obama should have strongly condemned the election of President Ahmadinejad.

Grudem’s arguments really demonstrate the difference between how foreign policy looks to the domestic audience and how plays in the foreign countries in question. In Iran, the government was condemning the protests as being the result of a conspiracy by Britain and America. For Obama to come out strongly in support of the protests would be playing into that narrative, and would probably have justified a bigger crackdown on the supporters than actually happened. Whilst his non-committal response looked weak at home, it almost certainly avoided making the situation worse in Iran.

Latin America

Grudem claims that Fidel Castro’s Cuba and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela are (well, were – Castro retired and Chavez died between the book’s publication and this blog post) military dicatorships that pose “the two greatest threats to freedom and democracy in North and South America”. He claims that they send money and soldiers into other Latin American countries to destabilise their governments and bring them into the Cuba-Venezuela orbit of “totalitarian states” that incline towards socialism or communism. He condemns Obama for endorsing these two governements’ legitimacy, for not giving any help to democratic opposition within those countries, and for lifting restrictions on travel, commerce, and mail to Cuba.

In actual fact, Chavez came to power by means of a democratic election and maintained it by being popular. Whilst his regime was autocratic, it definitely wasn’t a military dictatorship. Yes, Castro’s regime was somewhat totalitarian (though US sanctions have probably made it more so). Yes, Castro came to power through a coup in 1959. But his regime is clearly the legitimate government of Cuba, and all Obama has really done is recognise that both governments are legitimate and begin to normalise relations with Cuba.

Whilst both nations have tried to build influence in Latin America, their actions are on the same level as the US intervention in Columbia. Other, less controversial, left-wing leaders (e.g Brazil’s Lula) have been far more influential on the region.

In addition, Venezuela is clearly a functioning democracy, and there is no real democratic opposition within Cuba. If Obama supported the opposition in Venezuela, he would be sending the message that it’s OK for governments to interfere in somebody else’s democracy (so, for example, the British Government could provide support to the US Democratic Party).

Grudem also brings up events in Honduras, where he condemns Obama for “pounding tiny Honduras, which tried to save itself from the Chavez- and Castro-admiring Manuel Zelaya”. He is referring to the military coup in 2009, where the Supreme Court told the military to remove then-President Zelaya from power because of a non-binding (and apparently illegal) referendum he held on whether to hold a constitutional convention. Grudem insists that supporting the coup was the only course of action consistent with democratic values. Given that Honduras eventually settled on ignoring the referendum and letting Zelaya serve the rest of his term, things ultimately turned out fine, and it really didn’t matter either way.


Grudem condemns Obama for raising “not even a whisper of protest” against increasing persecution of leaders in the Chinese house-church movement, and refusing to meet with the Dalai Lama. He contrasts this with George W Bush openly condemning China on the issue. This criticism ignores the fact that we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors in diplomatic negotiations. Whilst Bush’s approach played well domestically, it is not necessarily the best way to get results. Especially when dealing with a nation where saving face is a very important part of the culture. If Obama has been raising the issue through diplomatic channels, he might well have got better results on the issue than Bush did.


Grudem doesn’t really address the fact that Obama’s regime has greatly reduced the amount of anti-American feeling in the world. Simply by being more tactful and less overtly gung-ho than his predecessor, he has made up for much of the ill-feeling that Bush created in a lot of countries. His criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy come across as naïve, assuming that foreign policy that comes across well to a domestic audience will also be effective. And occasionally he manages to look ignorant (Chavez was clearly not a military dictator, no matter what Fox News says).

Having said that, it is easy to understand his concerns (especially if you take his assumptions about what methods of diplomacy work, and his understanding of the facts of situations).

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