Thursday, December 01, 2005

You Make the Call
Let's suppose you were President for an hour. Yes, you. Your primary task is to make a significant appointment: the deputy director of USAID. What is USAID? It is a government agency that distributes funds to countries engaging in Democratic reform, or recovering from disaster, or mired in deep poverty. But it does those things for the express purpose of furthering the foreign policy goals of the US. As a tool for promoting stability, peace and democracy, President Bush has considered USAID one of the three legs of the "foreign policy apparatus" engaged in the "war on terrorism", alongside defense and diplomacy.

So what sorts of qualifications will you look for? Someone with administrative experience, overseeing significant funding processes? someone worldly? knowledgeable of civic infrastructure needs? foreign affairs/diplomatic experience? disaster relief experience? (no, Michael Brown is not available)

How about Paul Bonicelli? Who's he? He's been the Dean of Patrick Henry College, a conservative (to put it mildly) Christian school of 300 students, created for the purpose of attracting home-schooled students who want to stifle announce their academic curiosities ahead of time with pledges of belief in inerrant, literal scriptural truth, including a rather particular avowance that "hell is a place where 'all who die outside of Christ shall be confined in conscious torment for eternity.'" All, like, I presume, Muslims, Hindus and Jews.

I don't think you would appoint him to take a key leadership position within USAID. But somebody did. And I should be clear--I think persons of all religious faiths and viewpoints should be, of course, eligible for all government positions for which they are qualified. Religious belief should neither include nor preclude that qualification. But there is a problem here even beyond Bonicelli's seeming lack of any relevant experience for such an important post. 2 really:

1. Because the politics of today have so tied the conservative religious community to the electioneering machinery of party politics, it's hard to accept this otherwise curious appointment as anything but a political nod to the religious right. The conscious courting of religious voters has created a rather unholy marriage between religious leaders and elected officials that--like any purely political alliance taken too far--can be bad for the important business of government.

2. This furthers the impression that foreign policy might be a religious exercise. Again and again we have heard that the "war on terrorism" is not a war on Islam. But there has been plenty of reason to believe the motivations of much of our foreign policy is based in religion. An appointment like this one can only fuel that fire. Bad appointments, like this one appears to me, will make it harder for future Presidents to appoint people of outspoken faith to important positions for which they are indeed qualified.

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