Petraeus Goes Too Far

Gen. David Petraeus, reacting to a violent protest in Afghanistan by Muslims outraged by the announcement of a Fla church that it will burn a copy of the Koran on 9/11, said that the burning should be stopped, since it endangers US troops.

Obviously, General Petraeus must do his utmost to protect the guys he commands in Afghanistan. That is part of his job, but as soon as he begins to use his high-profile position to communicate what is and is not acceptable speech by American citizens, he is way out of line.

If the good General wants to comment on the acceptability or riskiness of anti-Muslim protests, he should stop making blanket declarations that he will not run for elected office and move into a position that allows him to comment on the exercise of rights by American citizens. As it stands, as a man in uniform with a tremendous amount of credibility and authority behind him, it is inappropriate for him to make comments in this area. First, he does so with borrowed legitimacy from his Commander-in-Chief, not being an elected individual himself. Secondly, his job is to protect the persons and rights of American citizens, not tell them how to exercise those rights. Finally, he misunderstands the nature of the political (as opposed to kinetic) war if he thinks that it is the Koran burning per-se that risks American soldiers’ lives. After all, it is not enraged American citizens who would be attacking US troops… it is actually the predictable and likely reaction to the event that risks our people.

Let us assume for a moment that we aren’t talking about a Koran burning. Let’s say some newspaper in a Western country has a competition for cartoonists to draw Muhammad. Let’s say they publish the results of this competition. This would also threaten US troops (the reaction, not the newspaper), so, General Petraeus, should we ban newspapers from publishing pictures of Muhammad because publishing them might “risk US troops”? If you maintain your position logically, you would have to say yes.

Our problem here is not that somebody would dare to burn another religion’ holy book. Our problem is that any provocation, perceived provocation, assumed slight, or nasty look directed against Muslims will start bloody riots. The answer to this is not to never insult them. How do you never insult the most touchy civilization in the history of humankind anyway? The answer is to let it be known that bloody riots against our troops are not going to be quietly tolerated. We are not going to just watch as the Arab street (or in this case, the Afghani street) gets itself worked into a froth and roams about looking for someone to tear into pieces with their hands and hang the remains off a bridge (I refer to past acts of bloody Mideastern riots).

The Middle East responds to strength and will. It does not respond to being nice. The Ottoman Turks were universally hated by everyone in the region even as they maintained stability and peace for a thousand years. This is because they were feared and respected. The political act of forcing Americans to not conduct a (questionable) act of political speech on 9/11 is a statement of capitulation. From ten years spent in the Middle East, I can say with confidence that any statement of capitulation will result in more, not less, violence on the part of the “muslim street” over the long-term. If a little fit gets me a lollipop, what will a big fit get me?

Sure it sounds mean and nasty and politically incorrect and chauvinistic to compare Muslims rightfully incensed over the burning of their holy book to children throwing a tantrum, but there is an unfortunate and often overlooked grain of truth in the comparison. Yes, Christians would be angry if someone in Riyadh burned a Bible; but they would not lynch people by tearing them to pieces with their hands nor conduct suicide bombings. Try burning Buddhist holy books sometime and see what the reaction will be (probably a sternly worded letter at worst). Islam is its own worst enemy here and it is not a church in Florida that is threatening our soldiers.

David Petraeus must get a grip and remember what freedoms he is supposed to be fighting to protect, as well as understand the limitations of his own position before he decided to dictate what Americans can and cannot do to protest the worst attack on this nation in at least a century and a half.


~ by Jubal Biggs on September 7, 2010.

4 Responses to “Petraeus Goes Too Far”

  1. Petraeus didn’t say Jones and the Dove Outreach folks don’t have the right to burn the Qur’an as a form of protest (and thus protected speech). What he said was that protest would completely undermine the efforts under way in Afghanistan (“We’re at war with terrorists/Taliban, not Islam”) and put US lives at greater risk.

    He’s absolutely right.

    Similarly, Jones is also right that he can burn the Qur’an in protest. Rights often have little to do with moral correctness (perceived or otherwise). I’m personally repulsed by the planned burning but I would take up arms to defend Jones’s right to do so.

    In any case, Petraeus offered his opinion. He has no authority in the state of Florida. The Gainesville Fire Marshal has already refused to grant a burn permit for the event. Apparently, the buck stops with him.

    • My problem with it is first, I disagree with the idea that it would “completely undermine” what we are doing. If that is so, then what we are doing is incredibly fragile if one church can undermine it completely, but also, we are not in Afghanistan to make Muslims happy with us. That is not our goal. Our goal is a stable state of some kind which is denied to Al Qaida as a base of operations. We can be utterly hated and that still happen.
      Also, the measure of whether it would put American lives at greater risk is ephemeral. Sure, I agree, as I said in the article, bloody riots may ensue. The thing is, American lives really are at risk anyway. The people who would use it as an excuse to take a Kalachnikov out and shoot at American troops already have the kalach, and they probably have been thinking about shooting American troops before. Frankly, We should not even begin to get into trying to police the World to ensure that no Koran gets burned anywhere so as to keep ourselves safe. That is insane.
      Finally, as a man with tremendous prestige and physical authority in the armed forces, Petraeus plays a role larger than just an arm chair commentator. He has borrowed authority of a non-legalistic kind, which has influence, yet he is unwilling to formalize this influence by saying he is interested in running for an office from which he can legitimately make such statements, yet he wants to make statements which you rightly point out he has no authority to make whatsoever.
      Yes, the local fire marshal is the man to talk to if you want to burn something in a public area. Unfortunately, what Petraeus did was direct the American conversation into an area where we are now talking about how to keep Islam happy enough to not kill too many of our troops (however many that would be is unimaginable to me), rather than focusing on our real mission; create some kind of stable political entity in Afghanistan that will be denied to Al Qaida.
      Also; your idea that we are at war with terrorists/Taliban is sort of wishy washy isnt it? I mean, we are not really at war with the Basque separatists or IRA, are we? Maybe “Muslim” comes in somewhere as a modifier to “terrorist” in the threat analysis? Maybe we are not at war with “Islam”, but a good hunk of Islam absolutely IS at war with us? Maybe it would be helpful to realize that we cannot appease our way out of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves in the Middle East? I am just suggesting…

  2. Burn a Quran and the soldiers` life is endangered…

    I found your entry interesting thus I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  3. […] Petraeus Goes Too Far September 2010 3 comments […]

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