By William Fisher
This week, we got yet another pitiful lesson in just how craven wanabee presidential hopefuls will be in pandering to their “base” – and how little some of them understand about how to wage and win the “Global War on Terror”.
The lesson came from Senator George Allen, the former Republican governor of Virginia, who is widely reported to be seeking his party’s nomination for president in 2008.
Senator Allen wrote to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to recommend 3-star general Jerry Boykin to be the new head of the Army’s Special Operations command.
For those of you with political amnesia, this is the same Jerry Boykin who appeared in dozens of Christian evangelical churches – often in uniform – to deliver himself of such utterances as:
About his battle with a Somali (Muslim) warlord: “I knew that my God was bigger than his God. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.”
About the Global War on Terror: “America’s enemy is “a spiritual enemy ... called Satan.” The enemy will only be defeated, he added, “if we come against them in the name of Jesus…We in the army of God, in the house of God, kingdom of God have been raised for such a time as this… The enemy will only be defeated, he added, “if we come against them in the name of Jesus…We in the army of God, in the house of God, kingdom of God have been raised for such a time as this."
About radical Muslims: “Why do they hate us so much? …The answer to that is because we're a Christian nation."
About President Bush: "He's in the White House because God put him there."
Boykin’s incendiary remarks drew predictable praise from Christianity’s loony fringe -- the likes of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson.
And his introduction of Crusader 101 language into the GWOT in 2002 and 2003 brought equally predictable outcries from the Muslim-American and Arab-American communities, as well as from a ton of more moderate Christian leaders and human rights advocacy groups.
So, when the Pentagon finally caved and opened an investigation, it gave Gen. Boykin a sharp slap on the wrist. It found that he violated regulations by failing to make clear he was not speaking in an official capacity when he made the speeches, sometimes wearing his Army uniform, and that Boykin violated Pentagon rules by failing to obtain advance clearance for his remarks.
The reprimand had dire consequences. Boykin is still the Pentagon's deputy undersecretary for intelligence.
Not to worry. After all, George Allen wants to be president.
So he wrote to Rumsfeld, “I am told, and I believe it to be true, that no special operations officer currently on active duty is more highly respected or admired by his superiors, peers or subordinates alike, than Jerry Boykin."
Allen’s letter said his confidence in Boykin's abilities overrides any
concerns about what may surface during confirmation hearings should the
administration nominate Boykin. Specifically, Allen mentioned the religious
statements as well as U.S. interrogation policies at the Guantanamo Bay prison, Abu Ghraib in Iraq and elsewhere.
"Granted, these are issues which (sic) cause discomfort. But I firmly believe the nomination of General Boykin to be important enough to take a stand," Allen wrote. The current commander of Special Operations, Army Gen. Bryan "Doug" Brown, is retiring.
The first term senator said his request to nominate Boykin had the support of "many of my colleagues here in the Senate" and those who have served with Boykin, given the general's extensive special operations resume, which includes the Army's Delta Force and service in the Somalia conflict.”
No doubt, though he didn’t name any of Boykin’s other supporters.
But, to his credit, one far more powerful Senate voice demurred. Virginia Sen. John Warner, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee (of which Sen. Allen is not a member) said in a statement to the AP, "Senator Allen is entitled to his views. He did not consult with me on this matter, but this officer would not be among those whom I would recommend for this position."
Good for him!
But there is a much larger point here. Even if we forget what Gen. Boykin believes, the Muslim world will not. They remember Abu Ghraib. And they remember, as reported by the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh, that the prison abuse scandal grew out of a decision to give greater influence to the Defense Intelligence unit, led by Stephen Cambone, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence -- and his deputy, guess who? Lt. General William G. “Jerry” Boykin.
They know all about the CIA’s private airline carrying out U.S. kidnappings of suspected terrorists and their “extreme renditions” to black hole prisons in Eastern Europe, and to such pillars of democracy as Egypt, Syria and a host of other hospitable venues.
They know all about the “diplomatic assurances” the U.S. gets from these countries, which routinely vow not to torture or abuse those we deliver into their gentle hands.
They know about Guantanamo Bay. They know about Bagram. They know about our then attorney general, John Ashcroft, rounding up anyone who looked like “a Middle Easterner” after the 9/11 attacks, convicting no one of any terror-related crime, but deporting many.
How do we know they know? We know because they tell us. In no uncertain terms.
Every time our hear-and-see-no-evil Secretary of State stilettos her way abroad, she gets an earful about precisely these issues. And when her sidekick, our newest public diplomacy maven, Karen Hughes, sets off on another of her tone-deaf “listening tours” of the Middle East to bond with “Muslim Moms”, what she hears is America is at war with Islam.
Even if she were qualified in public diplomacy, she has taken on an impossible job. The president has tasked her to persuade Arabs and other Muslims that he really means it when he describes them as people of peace and understands that Al-Qaida isn’t Islam.
But be not dis-encouraged. Stay the course. Mmes. Rice and Hughes will eventually be victorious in their long war because they’ll have the enthusiastic support of folks like George Allen – and Jerry Boykin.