Inspecting the General

Dear Readers,

Intolerance and fanaticism, mortifying the faiths and culture of others, and doing that holding high rung of American Intelligence and Military establishments, was unthinkable not so long ago.

Initially, when General Boykin’s insufferable story broke into the news media, Rumsfeld and Bush avoided commenting on this sensitive issue. Perhaps they did not wish to offend their strongest supporters, the ultra-conservative Christian groups leaded by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and Graham clans. Indeed, the big election is approaching the next year.

But the American moral conscience, nurtured and developed by two hundred years of democracy, where fairness and tolerance were the foundation of this nation’s steadfast progress toward modernity, the progressive minded Americans have begun to raise their voices. This is surely a positive development.

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
October 31, 2003

Inspecting the General

DEFENSE SECRETARY Donald H. Rumsfeld has punted the inconvenient matter of Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin and his intolerant public comments about religion to the Pentagon's inspector general. It's fine to have such a review, but it shouldn't be limited to the narrow question of whether Gen. Boykin ran afoul of any particular regulation. And though Mr. Rumsfeld is evidently not inclined to do so, he should rethink his inclination to leave Gen. Boykin in his sensitive position as deputy undersecretary for intelligence while his inflammatory statements are being reviewed. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.), no foe of the administration, wisely suggested this course in a speech on the Senate floor last week in which he identified the central issue raised by the general's comments: that "implicit" in the award of three-star rank and a high-level post is confidence that the individual "has good, sound judgment -- I repeat that: good, sound judgment -- in the exercise of his freedom to speak."

Gen. Boykin has every right to his deeply held religious views. His service to his country -- and it's been extensive -- doesn't require him to relinquish his faith or to refrain from expressing it, in appropriate ways and in appropriate settings. But when Gen. Boykin tells a church group that other countries "have lost their morals, lost their values, but America is still a Christian nation," he goes too far in mixing church and state. When he tells a prayer breakfast at Fort Dix, "Don't let the media, the liberals, sway you in your faith," he goes too far into the partisan realm, an area that also includes his statements that God worked "a miracle" to put President Bush in the White House. And when he says that after a Somali warlord taunted him that "Allah will protect me . . . I knew that my god was bigger than his. I knew that my god was a real god and his was an idol," he goes way too far, to the clear detriment of U.S. interests.

Mr. Rumsfeld, who hasn't exactly been shy about speaking out when he is displeased with the statements of other subordinates, has done his best to avoid commenting on Gen. Boykin's remarks. Even as he announced the inspector general review, for example, Mr. Rumsfeld said a network tape he reviewed "had a lot of very difficult to understand words with subtitles which I was not able to verify. So I remain inexpert on precisely what he said." It was only the next day, after President Bush himself explicitly criticized the general's remarks, that Mr. Rumsfeld followed suit -- sort of. "Obviously, our views are different from those views that the press is reporting in connection with General Boykin," he said.

Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita explained the other day that the inspector general's investigation will ask: "Is there any rule or regulation that needs clarification, is there anything that General Boykin did that may have been inconsistent with that? Those are questions that are relevant." One thing for the inspector general to examine is Gen. Boykin's apparent use of government resources in preparing his talks. Speaking at a church in Daytona, Fla., last January, Gen. Boykin said, "I'm going to drive my aide crazy because he worked until 5 o'clock this afternoon preparing a 30-slide presentation that I was going to give you tonight." Defense department rules say the duties of such aides "shall be concerned with tasks relating to the military and official responsibilities of the officers."

More critical than whether Gen. Boykin's actions comported with every jot and tittle of military regulations, however, is whether his actions were consistent with, in Mr. Warner's phrase, "the good, sound judgment" required of those entrusted with such authority. It doesn't take an inspector general to come up with the answer.

The Washington Post
Friday, October 31, 2003; Page A24