I have stayed away, myself, from General Petraeus’ point about the Dove World Outreach Center’s plan to burn Korans on 9/11, because I don’t regard it as the decisive argument. Petraeus’ concern is that burning Korans will result in greater danger to US troops in Afghanistan, as Muslims there retaliate. (Presumably General Mattis, the CENTCOM commander, has a similar concern about all our troops in the AOR, including Iraq, Kuwait, etc.)
Allahpundit at Hot Air has pointed out some problems with this argument already. I largely agree with his points. Now President Obama himself has come out with the Petraeus argument, and it’s time to take it on. Obama really does have a tin ear, and absolutely no sense of what’s appropriate for our head of state to be saying in public.
My take on this is basically a different aspect of the main point Allahpundit has made. The thing about provoking people is that it must always be a secondary concern. It should never be the deciding factor. There are many times, in the life of an individual or nation, when things have to be done that are guaranteed to provoke someone. Whether they should be done or not depends on necessity, utility, effectiveness – on suitability for achieving the objective and on the importance of the objective.
If the driving factor were how provocative something is likely to be, we’d never even defend ourselves. Defending yourself, after all, provokes the attacker. Carry the Petraeus argument to its logical conclusion, and we in the USA (in fact, in the entire West) should either commit mass suicide or all convert to Islam, because our very existence in our current state is a provocation to Islamist radicals and Muslim rent-a-mobs, and therefore constantly endangers the lives of our troops.
I think Petraeus would agree that if we need to do something to achieve our own objectives, we do it, even if it will provoke a backlash in the Muslim world (or, for that matter, from policy opponents at home and their useful-idiot BFFs abroad). He also has the obligation, given the post he occupies, to point out when there’s likely to be a backlash. That’s in his job description; I don’t fault him for making the point.
But I do fault the president for taking the easy way out and simply reiterating it. Commander-in-chief is only one of the hats he wears. He, of all Americans, should take the top-level view of this issue, as one involving civil rights, the moral tone of our society, and pragmatic calculations about military operations.
By simply restating Petraeus’ concern, Obama comes off as weak, defensive, and narrow of vision. The highest and most important factor in all of this, for the American president, is that freedom of expression is not just for those who do everything right. And if defending it provokes someone, well: too bad. It’s the freedom that matters most. Here is what Obama should have said:
“George, I disagree profoundly with the purpose of this stunt, and I understand why many Muslims would find it offensive, including our fellow Americans who are Muslims. In America, we all have the right to freedom of thought and expression, and as the president of this great people I affirm that right, even in this case. I also want to tell the many Muslims of goodwill, both here and around the world, that it’s not an expression of American intention or American policy. I know I have the great majority of the American people with me on that. And I expect our Muslim partners will understand that.
“As a Christian myself, I can tell you that I don’t regard this as a Christian act. I’m heartened that so many Christian and Jewish leaders in America have spoken out against it. I stand with them in condemning the wrong thinking behind it.
“And yes, General Petraeus has expressed concern about the safety of our troops if there’s a backlash after this stunt. It’s his job to advise me of concerns like that, and I always consider his input very carefully. He knows, of course, as you do, that one of the freedoms he has spent a whole career fighting to preserve is the one these people in Florida plan to exercise on 9/11.
“I call on the congregation in Florida to rethink their plan, because it achieves nothing, to inflict meaningless destruction on what others hold dear. They have the right to listen to my request or not. But I will tell you this: American troops will be prepared for whatever happens. They will be undeterred. They have a job to do, and that job is very important to America and our allies, and this isn’t going to stop them. We will take action as we must to keep our operations on track. I know General Petraeus agrees with me on that.”
Cross-posted at Hot Air.
UPDATE: Terry Jones, the pastor of the Dove Outreach Center, has now announced that he’s not going to burn the Koran because he’s been promised the Park 51 mosque will be moved. There are layers of wrongness here — Jones never presented his plan as a method of persuading Imam Rauf to move the mosque, and Rauf should certainly not move the mosque for such a reason — but it begins to be clear that Jones is in way over his head here.
At this point, I feel that some doggerel from Sully is our best option.