Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Afghanistan War: the latest Qur’an-burning flare-up

The Republicans have been blustering in their favorite way over the Qur'an-burning incident in Afghanistan and its bloody repercussions. The following McClatchy News reports give some background: Ali Safi and Nancy Youssef, 9 die in 2nd day of Afghan protests over Quran burnings 02/22/2012; Ali Safi and Jon Stephenson, Obama apologizes for Quran burning as Afghan protests go on 02/23/2012; Ali Safi and Jonathan Landay, Two U.S. soldiers killed as Afghan protests continue; NATO withdraws advisers from ministries 02/25/2012.

As Glenn Greenwald explains in The causes of the protests in Afghanistan Salon 02/26/2012, the discovery of the Qur'an burnings became the occasion for a new round of attacks against Americans, but the accumulated grievances against the foreign troops had considerable additional grounds than an abstract concern over holy books. Despite the Pentagon's feel-good propaganda for the home front about enlightened counterinsurgency that works closely with the local populations, it's clear that the reality Afghans are experiencing on the ground is often very different.

Human rights attorney Scott Horton spoke to Alyona Minkovski on Afghan Violence, Not Just About Koran The Alyona Show 02/27/2012:

Wade Burleson, sometime critic of the Southern Baptist hierarchy, expresses the conventional Christian Right/Republican position the incident at his blog in The Absolute Absurdity of Apologizing for Burning the Koran 02/27/2012:

Why is our President and military apologizing for the burning of the Koran? We are at war. If radical Muslim prisoners are passing notes using their religious materials, then those materials should be burned, even if it is the Koran, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or any other religious holy book. I know what radical Muslims believe about the Koran. I also know what radical Muslims believe about murder. The Taliban said of American soldiers two days ago, "Kill them, beat them, take them as prisoners and teach them such a lesson that they never summon the courage to abuse the holy Quran again." When dealing with religious fanatics who believe murder to be an appropriate response for burning of religious material--YOU SHOULD NEVER APOLOGIZE.
Notice that Burleson even criticizes our glorious generals for apologizing! He goes on to suggest that the US military in Afghanistan follow the distinguished Christian example of General Pershing in the Philippines in that notoriously brutal suppression of Filipino resistance fighters. Here's Burleson's Christian fantasy-vision for what happened:

Some contemporary accounts suggested that Pershing followed through with his threat after his forces captured some radicals who attacked and killed Americans in the Philippines. Pershing is said to have tied the captured terrorists to wooden posts, slaughtered some pigs, and then ordered his men to pour the pigs' blood over the radical Muslims. [In Burleson's version, the Filipino Muslims had a suspicious horror of pigs' blood.] The terrorists were then shot. All of them were executed. All but one. One terrorist was tied to the stake but was intentionally NOT shot. The survivor watched as Pershing's men untied the dead, blood-covered bodies of his comarades. The troops then dumped dead terrorists in fresh graves. The radicals were then covered with pigs' carcasses and buried under dirt. Pershing ordered his men to cut the survivor loose. The U.S. commander told the surviving terrorist to go back to his superiors and report to them everything that he had seen. The Muslims became terrified of Pershing as a result. He was deemed a hard, unapologetic man who met force with vicious force. Consequently, there was peace in the Philippines for the next fifty years. The Mullahs even made Pershing an Honorary Chieftan and never again gave him trouble during his military career. (emphasis in original)
Yes, I'm sure that's what Jesus would recommend. I realize it's common, and can even understand it to a point. But how can people who claim to channel their politics directly from their Christian faith be so enthusiastic about recommending torture, murder and various other kinds of brutality when it comes to war? He further states his position in the this verbally bloodthirsty rant:

Sound too tough? Well, the U.S. government should be tough. The U.S. military should be even tougher. Our government bears a sword of vengeance, and it should be used. Churches are in the business of redemption, forgiveness and love. The United States government is in the business of justice. Any government that apologizes to murderers for burning their holy book has lost its moral bearings. You don't apologize when at war. If you have to apologize, you shouldn't be at war. The United States is at war. NO MORE APOLOGIES. The more you apologize, the weaker you look. The weaker you are perceived, the more your people are murdered.
And he concludes by essentially dismissing any relevance of the Christian religion to war, except for his own example that Christians should cheer on war against them thar Muslims:

Now, if you are having a tough time reconciling this post with my previous posts on the forgiveness, love and acceptance of God for sinners who embrace His Son, or the love that Christians should have for their enemies, then you don't quite understand that the church is never called to be the government nor is the government ever called to be the church. For the world to be free, the United States needs to be a strong nation, backed by a strong military, with core values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Muslims should be free to worship in the United States, but any Muslim terrorist or nation who devalues human life, refuses liberty for his neighbor, prevents the pursuit of happiness, or kills someone who refuses to be a Muslim, should be a a terrorist or nation that should be dealt with by force, not apologies.
Not unlike the US Marines caught on camera pissing on the corpses of Afghans that he just killed, Wade Burleson here is pissing on the entire Christian tradition of the just war every component of it. Does this man really believe that God loves everyone equally? I don't see how he possibly could and write crap like that.

Juan Cole, Qur'an-burning Protests Spread, Santorum calls Obama Weak for Apologizing Informed Comment 02/27/2012 writes of the shooting of two soldiers at the Afghan Interior Ministry:

Some 30 Afghans have died in demonstrations in recent days.

Two US military advisers to the Ministry of the Interior were shot dead on Saturday by an Afghan security man. It turns out, according to recovered security tapes, that they were watching footage of the protests and cursing out the protesters, then speaking badly of the Qur'an. The Afghan argued with them that they should be more respectful, and when the argument escalated, he drew on them and shot them both dead.

If this story is true, it distills the arrogance and bigotry of some US personnel in Afghanistan (they are in someone else’s country). They didn’t deserve to meet that end, but cursing the Qur’an in a Muslim country in front of a local Muslim is about the most foolhardy act I can imagine. The strong evangelical element in some parts of the US military makes it particularly unsuited to more or less running a largely illiterate Muslim nation that is deeply religious. Evangelicals are the American group that has the highest disapproval of Islam.
The Alyona Show MSM: 'Redouble' Afghanistan Efforts? 02/27/2011 also reported on US officials suggesting that the latest violence is a reason to extend US military presence in Afghanistan for longer than currently planned. (Starts around 1:31 in the video)

Nancy Youssef also reports for McClatchy Newspapers, Violence suggests 'Afghans hate us, and we don't trust them' 02/27/2012:

This incident, several officers told McClatchy, has left U.S. troops saying that they can't keep training Afghans who may try to kill them, a growing problem that plagued the mission even before coalition forces accidentally burned several copes of the Quran in a trash fire last week. Obama and other senior U.S. officials apologized for the incident, which triggered a week of protests and attacks in which about 40 people have died.

"Afghans hate us, and we don't trust them. We have never felt safe around them," said a U.S. military officer who works on Afghanistan policy, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

So far this year, Afghan troops have killed at least 10 U.S. service members who were training them, including the four last week. Two weeks ago, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Afghan troops had killed 70 American service members in 46 incidents since 2007; half of those had occurred since May 2009.

The majority of those attacks were by Afghans who were frustrated with their trainers, not Taliban insurgents infiltrating bases, according to military officials. By comparison, over nearly nine years in Iraq, where the U.S. military presence was greater, Iraqi forces killed about half a dozen American troops who were training them, the Pentagon said.
She quotes John Nagl, one of the most enthusiastic promoters of COIN (counterinsurgency) theory, who sounds here like even he is ready to throw up his hands on the Afghanistan mission:

Retired Army Lt. Col. John Nagl, a counterinsurgency expert, said that a decade of war had exhausted even the most supportive Afghans. Even an advisory mission — in which U.S. forces don't conduct offensive operations — may not be an option.

"If we are not able to restore trust between Afghan and coalition troops," Nagl said, "then the strategy is unworkable."
Jim White at Emptywheel highlights Army study of 05/12/2011, A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incomptability, by Jeffrey Bordin. White posts on it in In Rush to Transcribe Military’s Concern on Why We Can't Leave Afghanistan, Did NY Times Fact-check “Classified” Report? 01/20/2012 and Hiding Report on Fratricide in Afghanistan Doesn’t Make It Go Away 02/27/2012. Bordin's report from last May found clear sounds of serious distrust between Americans and allied Afghans, months before the latest Qur'an burning flap, that present a very different picture of the Pentagon's approach than what the goodie-two-shoes version of COIN that the military presents to the American public.


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