President Bush rightly took issue yesterday with the anti-Semitic comments of Malaysia’s prime minister. Mr. Bush took Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad aside during the economic summit in Bangkok “and told him that what he said was ‘wrong and divisive,’ ” according to White House press secretary Scott McClellan. “It stands squarely against what I believe in,” Mr. McClellan quoted the president as saying. Mr. Mahathir had told an Islamic conference last week that “the Jews rule the world by proxy” and urged Islamic nations to unite against being “defeated by a few million Jews.” He received a standing ovation from his colleagues — making Mr. Bush’s expression of disapproval all the more necessary.
Would that Mr. Bush’s sense of outrage at religiously inflammatory remarks was so finely tuned when it comes to members of his own administration. Thus far he has found nothing to criticize in remarks disparaging of Islam by Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin, his deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence. In videotapes of appearances before church groups — obtained by military analyst William N. Arkin and first described on NBC and in the Los Angeles Times — Gen. Boykin, in Army uniform, describes the United States as a “Christian nation” and says he knew he would capture a Somali warlord because “I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.” Gen. Boykin casts the war against terrorism as a “spiritual battle,” saying that “Satan wants to destroy this nation, he wants to destroy us as a nation, and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army.”
Gen. Boykin now argues that his “idol” reference was to the worship of money and power, not Allah. But a review of the full text of his remarks cannot support this reading. In fact, the full text only adds to the questions about his suitability. At the Good Shepherd Community Church in Sandy, Ore., last June, just after he received his third star and was named to his Pentagon post, Gen. Boykin said, “Don’t you worry about what these courts say. Our God reigns supreme.”
Some of his comments also raise questions about Gen. Boykin’s fitness to oversee military intelligence, questions of religious bigotry aside. He describes taking photographs during a helicopter tour before leaving Mogadishu, Somalia, and then finding an unexplained black mark on the developed pictures, which he explains as a manifestation of evil. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your enemy,” he tells the Good Shepherd audience. “It is not Osama bin Laden, it is the principalities of darkness. It is a spiritual enemy that will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus and pray for this nation and for our leaders.” He also offers this take on Sept. 11: “Whether you realize it or not, I believe there were at least two more airplanes that were headed for major installations in this country. I believe that there was one headed for the White House, and there was one headed for the Capitol, but they were thwarted by the hand of God.”
Gen. Boykin’s comments have already become political fodder — for those who push the belief that the United States is waging war on Islam, not on terrorism, and for those who would excuse other forms of religious intolerance. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, praising Mr. Mahathir’s speech, said, “We hope that those who condemned Mahathir’s speech lend more attention to the words of the American general . . . who demonstrated hostility toward Islam and Muslims.”
But from the Bush administration, there has not been a syllable of criticism. Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that it didn’t seem Gen. Boykin had violated any rules. “We’re a free people,” said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. On ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice ducked the question — twice. The president ought to be forthright about comments that are wrong and divisive — whether they’re uttered by a foreign leader or by one of his own generals.