GOP Foreign Policies Are Hurting Christians Around the World

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Senator Marco Rubio speaks during the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas on December 15. Should Rubio and other GOP politicians get their wish and see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ousted, the likely fate of Christians there will be grim, the author writes. Mike Blake/Reuters

This article first appeared on the Cato Institute site.

Christians in America remain free to celebrate Christmas, but not tens or perhaps hundreds of millions of believers abroad. Murder by groups such as the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and Boko Haram topped pervasive persecution and discrimination in many nations.

On Christmas Eve, Senator and presidential contender Marco Rubio penned an article decrying the lack of "attention paid to the plight of these Christian communities in peril." He criticized the Obama administration and called for action.

Undoubtedly, Rubio's concern is genuine. However, the GOP's policies have hurt and will continue to hurt Christians around the world.

No single action was as injurious to Middle Eastern Christians as the invasion of Iraq. American intervention triggered a sectarian conflict that displaced hundreds of thousands of Christians, spawned a new Al-Qaeda organization that morphed into ISIS and tolerated ruthless Shiite rule that encouraged Baathists and Sunnis to support ISIS.

Absent George W. Bush's Iraq folly, backed by Rubio and most of his competitors, ISIS wouldn't exist.

Most of the usual GOP suspects, starting with Rubio, also backed the Obama administration's decision to intervene in the Libyan civil war. This misbegotten policy left two competing governments and multiple armed militias in its wake. Worse still, it left a vacuum partly filled by ISIS, which publicly murdered Egyptian Copts who were working in Libya.

Syria is engulfed by a hideous civil war. Bashar al-Assad is a secular dictator who uses fear of potential religious persecution for his political benefit. But Christians and other religious minorities have good reason to be terrified about Syria après Assad. After all, many of them fled Iraq, where they've seen the ending of the movie: It isn't pretty.

Should Rubio & Co. succeed in ousting Assad, the likely fate of Christians is grim. The State Department noted: In Syria "ISIL [ISIS] required Christians to convert, flee, pay a special tax, or face execution in territory it controls, and systematically destroyed churches, Shia shrines and other religious sites."

On a recent trip to Jordan and Lebanon, I met with several Christian aid workers active in Syria. Most complained about U.S. policy targeting Assad. One said simply, "You Americans don't know what you are doing."

Washington's reflexive support of ruthless Islamic regimes throughout the Middle East–endorsed by Rubio and the rest of the GOP presidential gaggle–is almost as bad. For instance, despite complaining about foreign blasphemy laws, Rubio declared that the U.S. must "reinforce our alliances." Some of his Republican competitors are even more insistent.

Yet Saudi Arabia is essentially a totalitarian state, without a single operating church (or synagogue or temple) for non-Muslims. The State Department wrote, "The government harassed, detained, arrested and occasionally deported some foreign residents who participated in private non-Muslim religious activities."

Coptic Christians remain victims of persecution, discrimination and violence in Egypt, even after the military ouster of the Muslim-dominated government of Mohammed Morsi.

I wrote in Forbes, "Americans should remember the plight of Middle East Christians. At the same time, voters should remember that Republican support for promiscuous military intervention and Islamic dictators did much to bring down disaster upon Middle Eastern Christians."

Unfortunately, doing more of the same in the Mideast, as Rubio has proposed, would only yield the same result. He should put helping persecuted Christians before promoting misbegotten neoconservative crusades.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.