Republicans are usually eager to trumpet their support for the troops and the war against terror. So why aren't they condemning the Florida pastor who plans to lead his congregation in a Quran-burning bonfire on Sept. 11?
Gen. David Petraeus, U.S. commander in Afghanistan, issued a statement on Sept. 6, warning that the pastor's action "could endanger our troops," feed the Taliban's propaganda machine, and "undermine the effort to accomplish the critical [war] mission."
Advance word of the burning has already sparked anti-American protests in Kabul, with more scheduled soon. Actual images of burning Qurans, Petraeus said, "would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan—and around the world—to inflame public opinion and incite violence," much like the photos of torture at Abu Ghraib.
So where is John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who brandishes his war-hero credentials at every opportunity and, in the past, has rushed to condemn anyone who dares criticize Gen. Petraeus? Where is the second-ranking Republican, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who also sits on the Foreign Relations Committee? Where is Saxby Chambliss, who loudly supports big-ticket weapons systems in the name of national security (and the jobs they sustain in his home state of Georgia) but has thus far said nothing to support our troops on this front?
The pastor who lit this conflagration—Terry Jones, head of the 50-member (yes, 50-member) Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla.—is quoted in today's Wall Street Journal as saying, "We understand the general's concerns. We are sure that his concerns are legitimate." But, he went on, "We must send a clear message to the radical element of Islam. We will no longer be controlled and dominated by their fears and threats."
And so, to send this message, Jones and his pathetic flock plan to burn the book regarded as holy by 1.5 billion Muslims, only a tiny percentage of whom sympathize with this "radical element," though no doubt his protest will boost those ranks at least a little.
It is appalling enough that a growing number of Americans, caught up in the pre-election backlash against mosques and Muslims generally, seem unaware that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are fighting not only against Muslims but also alongside them, and on behalf of governments led by Muslim parties. (Do they imagine, in their warped pictures of a holy war against Islam, that Nuri al-Maliki and Hamid Karzai are Christians?)
But U.S. senators know better (most of them anyway). So where are they? Whose side are they on? With the exception of Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who appeared on Fox News to defend the right of American Muslims to build an Islamic community center two blocks from the World Trade Center site (on the conservative principle that owners of private property should be able to do as they please), elected Republicans—and, to be fair, most elected Democrats as well—have ducked and run.
In September 2007, the Senate voted 72-25 to condemn the anti-war group MoveOn.org for running a full-page newspaper ad that denounced Gen. Petraeus, then the U.S. commander in Iraq, as "General Betray Us."
If the senators want to show their genuine support for Petraeus (and not just indulge in an easy political stunt), they should denounce Terry Jones for endangering the troops and providing aid and comfort to the enemy—and, better still, send federal marshals to Gainesville, Fla., to help the local fire chief (who has ordered Jones not to burn the books) maintain public safety.