Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Profiles in Cowardice: Gen. Petraeus Edition

From CNN:

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan on Monday criticized a Florida church's plan to burn copies of the Quran on September 11, warning the demonstration "could cause significant problems" for American troops overseas.

"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan," Gen. David Petraeus said in a statement issued Monday.

Where was Gen Petraeus’ sensitivity to religion last May:

The U.S. military is confirming that it has destroyed some Bibles belonging to an American soldier serving in Afghanistan.

Reuters News says the Bibles were confiscated and destroyed after Qatar-based Al Jazeer television showed soldiers at a Bible class on a base with a stack of Bibles translated into the local Pashto and Dari languages. The U.S. military forbids its members on active duty -- including those based in places like Afghanistan -- from trying to convert people to another religion.

According to the military officials, the Bibles were sent through private mail to an evangelical Christian soldier by his church back home. Reuters says the soldier brought them to the Bible study class where they were filmed.

The lesson here is simple:  peace and tolerance are for losers.  The official policy of the U. S. government is allocate respect in direct proportion to a group’s willingness to kill people and break things.

This lesson is not lost on our adversaries.  How long will it be lost on us?

UPDATE:  Professor Hale weighs in.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link.

BTW, this is one of the lessons from Bosnia. Host nations are VERY sensitive that American military might will be used to prosthelitize the locals. The obvious intent of having Pashto bibles is to give them to Afghans. That is a clear violation of military standing orders. English language bibles were not being destroyed. In fact, the military (through the chaplains office) gives them away for free to US soldiers.

When I was in Bosnia, I had to kick a chaplain off our base. She was a reservist chaplain who was sent to Bosnia by her home denomination. She had no connection to the military at the time but was using her connection to US soldiers on our base to provide her with food, hot showers, laundry and mail service. The implication of the locals was that she worked for us and was trying to convert their children (False and true, in that order).

It would have been best for Patreaus to not mention the Florida chapter at all. If he had to say something he could have just said that America is a big place with a lot of people and that pastor is just one of them.

Φ said...

I'd like to hear more of your Bosnia story.

This is an example of what I like to call the "magical standard". It's like when the Supreme Court is measuring a law against the Constitution and starts by saying something like, "In order for this law to be Constitutional, it must meet three criteria . . ." And the criteria sound fair and reasonable until you remember that the SCOTUS has a grab-bag of standards to choose from, with little non-partisan way of predicting which standard will be applied in which instance.

The same is true here. The rule is that our soldiers mustn't "proselytize" (whatever that means) for religion (ie. Christianity) so as not to "offend" the locals. But as Chris Roach points out, we do a truckload of stuff that offend the locals that Gen. Petreaus never worries about.

Let's consider an example. A decade or two ago, there was some kerfluffle over our service women stationed in Saudi Arabia going about with their heads uncovered. This gave offense to the Saudi religious police. I seem to recall that the local commanders' response this provocation was to restrict all service members -- men AND women -- to the installation. The point being, they certainly did NOT require the women to wear burkas. See how it works? The way the issues of "giving offense" to locals are handled is usually a front in our own domestic culture wars.

My own view is this: if our servicemembers are deployed, then they ought not be made to suffer any disabilities they would not be allowed to suffer on our own soil. If they offend the locals, then the locals should be brought to heel. If we are pretending to be friends with the locals, then the locals should get to decide the relative importance of their cultural sensibilities compared to the benefits of the American blood and treasure expended on their behalf.

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a good metric. The problem is that in most cases, we invade a country because WE want to, not because the locals want us to. The only valid metric to expend the blood and treasure of a free nation is that the citizens of that nation benefit in some way from it. And I don't count "prestige" as a tangible benefit worth any blood.

In the case of the chaplain, she was not sent there by the Army. She was taking advantage of both worlds and thereby bringing discredit on us. If we had decided that we wanted her doing those things, she would be included as part of a coordinated plan. Instead she was a loose cannon.

Bosnia was a particularly difficult mission because out intention was to appear neutral between three formerly waring parties. Trying to convert the locals to Christianity is a tactic used by the Serbs and Croats and would make it look like we were on their side. So you can see that the policy there was directly tied to the strategic mission.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, we also have a policy of forbidding porn specifically so as not to offend Islamic sensibilities. But Arabs are rabid consumers of all kinds of porn and they don't need our help getting any. So overall, it serves no purpose. Perhaps it was something we negotiated with local leaders or perhaps it just offends the sensibilities of feminists and Baptist chaplains. Either way, it became policy. Oddly enough, no one will tell you what the definition of porn is.

Another difference is that converting a Moslem to Christianity is punishable by death for the convert as well as the missionary. So it is not something we want our soldiers doing. Aside from difficulty for the soldier, it creates a new convert with no place to go but prison. Not a very charitable thing to do to him.

If we created a policy of automatically granting asylum to Christians from Moslem countries, every one of the Billion Moslems living there would convert tomorrow and put in for their visas. Not a precedent that benefits us in any way. Best to avoid the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

Hale, just wanted to say that I am finding your contributions to this discussion fascinating. Thanks!

Φ said...

Prof Hale: you hopefully realize that, for a Christian, the benefit of Christianity (i.e. forgiveness of sin) outweighs the slings and arrows this life threatens, even in a Muslim country. Potential converts don't need Gen. Petraeus making those tradeoffs on their behalf.

Any soldier is free to engage in whatever religious activity he chooses in his off-duty time, and I see no reason he should relinquish that freedom while serving in a foreign country under the heel of our occupation. That's the benefit of being a conquerer: you get to make your subjects follow your rules.

No, I'm not suggesting asylum for all Christians in Muslim countries. I am suggesting that America has no business "helping" people who hate our religion. We can invade them or not invade them according to the needs of our own security. But otherwise, Afghanis and Bosnians can kill, cook, and eat each other.

Anonymous said...

When you are president, it will be so. Than YOU can set the rules the military must live by.

It was a strategic decision made very early after 9-11 that the USA was not going to war against Islam. As such, we had no basis for doing missionary work. To do so would have put us on the outs with the entire Moslem world, including those places we now count as allies.

The fact is, GEN P isn't making that choice for the Moslem converts. Their own government make that choice. For what it's worth, military posts in the USA accommodate state laws for the states they are in. Back when every state had its own drinking age from 18-21, the drinking age on that past matched the state law.

In the case of Afghanistan and Iraq, the case is as simple as "how many enemies do you want to make before you lose the war?" We get a lot of cooperation in Iraq today particularly from local Imams and tribal leaders. We would not have that support if we our soldiers were out converting Moslems. When we get enough support, the troops there can come home. Not an Obama "end of combat operations" but a real end.

Personally I believe we have already accomplished our major purposes there and in Afghanistan and we can pull everyone out. I was hoping Obama would have the Audacity to do it. No such luck.

One of my translators in Iraq was a recent convert to Christianity. He attended on-base Bible studies. I personally thin he was doing it as a shortcut to citizenship. He was an insufferable suck-up. He got along OK with the Islamic translators, but none of them were really committed to it. And they all felt they were at greater risk just from working for us. Still, he did get his ass kicked a few times by the others.

Φ said...

It's not just the president. Our entire clerisy would rather claw over each other in games of moral oneupmanship than close ranks with their own people. So no, I'm not optimistic about our prospects.

But we do what we can.

"Stategic decision" is an example of the "magical standard". It sounds lofty until you realize what a bad deal it is for us. This isn't South Korea or Germany; the U.S. military MADE the government that now serves as an excuse to restrict the rights of service members.

I get that the median towelhead is pretty unimpressive. I remember watching the movie The Hurt Locker and thinking about how many times I would have opened up on people just for being bat-sh!t stoopid. The restraint our guys have to show every day is amazing.

Anonymous said...

I didn't watch the Hurt Locker. I refuse to watch anything produced by Hollywood on the subject of any war after WW2. It will just make me angry.