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Fareed Zakaria wrote an impassioned but wrong-headed essay for MS-NBC calling for the Bush Administration to fire General Jerry Boykin over the story that the LA Times gave NBC late last week:
President Bush’s commission on public diplomacy recently noted that in nine Muslim and Arab nations only 12 percent of respondents surveyed believed that “Americans respect Arab/Islamic values.” Such attitudes, the commission argued, create a toxic atmosphere of anti-Americanism that cripples U.S. foreign policy and helps terrorists. To address the problem the commission suggested a major reorganization of the American government, hundreds of millions of dollars of funding and the creation of a new cabinet position. I have a simpler, more urgent suggestion: fire William Boykin.
Zakaria, a writer whose work I respect, starts this essay off with the ludicrous suggestion that the only reason that Muslims and Arabs have an overwhelmingly negative view of Americans is that we have American diplomats and government officers spouting Christian theology. What rubbish! First and foremost, Muslim and Arab hostility towards Americans results from our alliance with Israel on one hand and our business relationships with oppressive, oil-rich Arab kleptocracies on the other. Despite our coming to the rescue of Muslims in the Balkans on multiple occasions (and opposing historically Christian oppressors in doing so), these issues haven't changed and so neither has Muslim and Arab attitudes towards the US.
While our relationships with the kleptocracies are wide open for criticism, they have had wide bipartisan support and reflect certain geopolitical realities, chief among them that we don't seem to want to drill for oil in our own abundant back yard, and so we must buy from others who have it. The only other choice would be to severely limit power production and transportation, which would have a devastating effect on our economy. But our relationship with Israel is based on shared values and the absolutely critical foreign policy axiom that we never sacrifice a democratic nation for the sake of dictators. We will not stand for any administration that sheds its alliance with Israel in order to grovel at the feet of Saddams and Khomeinis. Our mission is to promote democracy, not to abandon it.
So the idea that a general speaking at his churches will somehow tip all of these Muslims from being friendly to spawning terrorists is really just a bit too much to buy.
When asked about these remarks, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refused to condemn them, explaining, “We’re a free people.” But the issue is not whether the general is free to express his views, but whether Secretary Rumsfeld wants someone who holds such views in high office.
I'm really at a loss as to what remedy Zakaria recommends here. Is he really calling for a religious test for government office? Because up until now, no one has proposed that non-Christians be barred from military command or the State department. Zakaria can't have it both ways. Either we are all free to worship as we please without fear of punishment or retribution, or we can start chucking people out of their jobs for religious expression we don't like. Is that what Zakaria wants?
After all, were the general to have expressed his opinion that the Iraq war was a blunder, he would have been fired.
There is a difference between expressing strong religious convictions and publicly countering the foreign policy of the government you represent. The latter is good cause for termination (assuming this is an appointee and not an elected official) regardless of whether you do the former or not.
Will he be effective in establishing close working relationships with these officials, who have all watched him slur their religion? Is this a man who will be able to objectively sift through intelligence and analysis about the state of Muslim societies, the difference between moderates and extremists, the distinctions among various fundamentalist groups? Or does he look at them all and see ... Satan?
Zakaria hits below the belt here. Boykin has been fighting for his country for many years now, from Vietnam to both Gulf Wars, mostly in covert operations where you either get proficient at reading subtle variations of character and expression, or you get dead. If he saw Satan in every Muslim walking out of a mosque, as Zakaria postulates here, how could he have survived all those missions and wars in Special Ops? He's spent years building close working relationships with a variety of people, all the while being Christian. Why is that so difficult to believe? Why doesn't Zakaria reverse this argument and ask how devout Muslims expect to be trusted once people know who they are? Because our experience, thus far, is that radical Christians don't hijack planes and run them into buildings full of civilians, nor do radical Jews, radical Buddhists, or radical atheists. Why does Zakaria expect Christians to apologize for being Christians?
I don't share the General's religious views in regards to this war, but that's really beside the point. We are in the middle of a war, and we have a seasoned, successful, and motivated expert who has dedicated his life to protecting the United States and its freedom, including the freedom of religious expression for all citizens -- Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Eckankar, Buddhist, or atheist. It would be the height of betrayal, and stupidity, for the US to bar this man from continuing his mission on the basis of his religious views, and I am astounded by Zakaria's suggestion to that end.
UPDATE: Let's remember that Boykin is not being challenged on any official communication from either his job as Deputy Undersecretary for Intelligence or as a commander. These quotes are from speeches Boykin gave to churches and from an interrogation 10 years ago that he repeated to another congregation. In fact, if you look at all of Arkin's quotes (for which he will still not provide transcripts, despite agreeing to do so), they all are from speeches in churches. What's next, a list of chapters and verses Boykin may have chosen for readings?Sphere It View blog reactions
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