Please Help Provide Clean Water to Persecuted Christians
<< Denison Forum

Explaining the Partisan Reaction to Soleimani’s Death: How We See the World Changes How We Experience the World


President Trump told the nation yesterday that no Americans were hurt by Iran’s missile attack in response to the death of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. He stated that Iran appears to be “standing down” and indicated that American forces would not respond further.

Unsurprisingly, reaction in America to Soleimani’s death has fallen largely along partisan lines. For example, a Fox News commentator stated that “Soleimani was an unparalleled organizer and a pitiless murderer. His death was richly earned.” A CNN commentator, by contrast, called his killing a “reckless gamble.”

This partisan divide is sadly familiar, of course. But I recently read an explanation for it that was both insightful and relevant to more than our politics. 

Four ways to do foreign policy 

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat views American foreign policy through a prism developed by scholar Walter Russell Mead, who created this famous typology named for four American statesmen:

  • Hamiltonian: protection of commerce
  • Wilsonian: moral principle
  • Jeffersonian: maintenance of a democratic system
  • Jacksonian: populist values and military strength.

Douthat describes the Hamiltonians as “business-minded internationalists, cold-eyed and stability-oriented and wary of wars that seem idealistic rather than self-interested.” He describes the Wilsonians as “idealists, whether neoconservative or liberal-humanitarian, who regard the United States military as a force for spreading democracy and protecting human rights.” He claims that most foreign policy leaders in Washington “belong to one of these two groups.” 

According to Douthat, however, “far more American voters are either Jacksonians or Jeffersonians.” He describes Jeffersonians as “more common on the left than on the right,” an impulse that “regards global hegemony as a corrupting folly and America’s wars as mostly unwise and unjust.” Their defining attitude is “No blood for oil.” 

Douthat locates the “Jacksonian tendency” as “more common on the right than on the left” and describes it a “pugilistic nationalism that’s wary of all international entanglements but ready for war whenever threats arise.” Its essential credo is “More rubble, less trouble.” 

According to Douthat, President Trump is a Jacksonian working within the Hamiltonian-Wilsonian strategic framework that dominates Washington’s political leadership. As with much of the president’s agenda and actions, the killing of Maj. Gen. Soleimani doesn’t fit within their ideology, which helps explain the polarization and rancor of our political discourse. 

Whether you agree or disagree, it’s important to note the formative power of a leader’s worldview in shaping foreign policy in practical ways. How we see the world goes a long way toward determining how we experience it. 

Seeing Iran through spiritual eyes 

The same is true for us spiritually. For example, a church worker in Iran told CBN News that, forty years after Iran’s Islamic revolution, there’s another spiritual revolution underway in his country. 

He states, “More people have come to faith [in Christ] in Iran in the last forty years than in the previous 1,400 years.” Believers there say that persecution in Iran is not hindering the church. In fact, it is growing it. 

One missional leader explains: “When the persecution stops, the growth stops. What we want is the Gospel to spread far and wide and deep in Iran.” 

Seeing our souls through spiritual eyes 

Henri Nouwen made an extended observation that seems especially relevant to this point in history: 

“When we lose a family member or friend through death, when we become jobless, when we fail an examination, when we live through a separation or a divorce, when war breaks out, when an earthquake destroys our home or touches us, the question ‘Why?’ spontaneously emerges. ‘Why me?’ ‘Why now?’ ‘Why here?’ It is so arduous to live without an answer to this ‘Why?’ that we are easily seduced into connecting the events over which we have no control with our conscious or unconscious evaluation. 

“When we have cursed ourselves or allowed others to curse us, it is very tempting to explain all the brokenness we experience as an expression or confirmation of this curse. Before we fully realize it, we have already said to ourselves, ‘You see, I always thought I was no good. . . . Now I know for sure. The facts of life prove it.’ 

“The great spiritual call of the Beloved Children of God is to pull their brokenness away from the shadow of the curse and put it under the light of the blessing. This is not as easy as it sounds. The power of the darkness around us is strong, and our world finds it easier to manipulate self-rejecting people than self-accepting people. 

“But when we keep listening attentively to the voice calling us the Beloved, it becomes possible to live our brokenness, not as a confirmation of our fear that we are worthless, but as an opportunity to purify and deepen the blessing that rests upon us. Physical, mental, or emotional pain lived under the blessing is experienced in ways radically different from physical, mental, or emotional pain lived under the curse.” 

How King David approached conflict 

King David was no stranger to war with his enemies and with himself. In a time of intense conflict, he made this simple but profound declaration: “Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord” (Psalm 4:5). 

As we work, God works. As we face conflict in our nation and in our souls, the key is to do what only we can do and trust God to do what only he can do. 

What “sacrifice” will you offer him today? 

What challenge will you trust to him today?

Publication date: January 9, 2020

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Alex Wroblewski/Stringer

Jim Denison, PhD, is a cultural theologian and the founder and CEO of Denison Ministries. Denison Ministries includes,,, and Jim speaks biblically into significant cultural issues at Denison Forum. He is the chief author of The Daily Article and has written more than 30 books, including The Coming Tsunamithe Biblical Insight to Tough Questions series, and The Fifth Great Awakening.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit

The Daily Article Podcast is Here!

Click to Listen

More Denison Forum Articles