President Bush's commission on public diplomacy recently noted that in nine Muslim and Arab nations, only 12 percent of respondents surveyed believed that "Americans respect Arab/Islamic values." Such attitudes, the commission argued, create a toxic atmosphere of anti-Americanism that cripples U.S. foreign policy and helps terrorists. To address the problem the commission suggested a major reorganization of the American government, hundreds of millions of dollars of funding and the creation of a new Cabinet position. I have a simpler, more urgent suggestion: Fire William G. Boykin.
Boykin is the Army general who has recently been appointed to a senior Defense Department post. Over the past two years the general has given dozens of addresses to evangelical Christian groups in which, describing his battle with a Somali (Muslim) warlord, he has said: "I knew that my God was bigger than his God. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol." He has also repeatedly explained that America's enemy is "a spiritual enemy . . . called Satan." The enemy will be defeated, he added, only "if we come against them in the name of Jesus."
A few more of these and Osama bin Laden won't need to make videos anymore. He can just put together the greatest hits of Boykin, Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and they will make his point nicely: that Americans see all Muslims as enemies. Oh, and here's a quick refresher course for the Pentagon intelligence chiefs: Islam was founded, in part, as a reaction against idol worship and rigorously prohibits any graven images. When have you seen a statue of Muhammad?
When confronted last week, Lt. Gen. Boykin claimed, of course, that his remarks had been taken out of context. When referring to the Somali warlord's God, he explained, he meant money and power. Untrue. In Boykin's original tale, he explained that the Somali warlord had bragged that the Americans would not capture him because his God, Allah, would protect him. "Well," Boykin continued, "my God was bigger than his God."
His dissembling gets almost comic over another one of his comments. Boykin routinely told audiences that God elevated George W. Bush to the presidency. "Why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him," he would say. "I tell you this morning that he's in the White House because God put him there." Boykin now explains that he believes God routinely decides American elections and has done the same thing for "Bill Clinton and other presidents." This is surely the first time a conservative evangelical has argued that Clinton's election was caused by divine intervention.
When asked about these remarks, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld refused to condemn them, explaining, "We're a free people." The issue, though, is not whether the general is free to express his views but whether Rumsfeld wants someone who holds such views in high office. After all, were Boykin to have expressed the opinion that the Iraq war was a blunder, he would have been fired. Were he to have made an anti-Semitic comment (like the noxious ones Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad made last week), he would have been fired. Why? Because those freely expressed views would contradict the Bush administration's basic philosophy. So are we to assume that Boykin's views do not contradict administration policy? No one is urging that Rumsfeld muzzle Boykin, merely that he allow him to enter the private sector, where he may express his views even more freely. He could even sit in for Rush Limbaugh.
This is not simply a matter of symbolism, though that is important because this story is now being broadcast across the globe. The position Boykin holds -- deputy undersecretary for intelligence -- is one in which he would have to interact routinely with Pakistanis, Egyptians, Afghans, Indonesians and other Muslims from all over the world. Will he be effective in establishing close working relationships with these officials, who have all watched him slur their religion? Is this a man who will be able to objectively sift through intelligence and analysis about the state of Muslim societies, the difference between moderates and extremists, the distinctions among various fundamentalist groups? Or does he look at them all and see . . . Satan?
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Boykin's remark was its utter ignorance. Compare Boykin's crude machismo about "my God" being bigger than "his God" to Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's eloquent -- and historically accurate -- remarks last Friday to an Arab American group. "We meet here today not as Muslims or Christians or Jews," Lieberman said, "not as people of Arab or European descent or African or Asian descent. . . . We are children of the same God and of the same father, Abraham. We are quite literally brothers and sisters." That is the message America should send to the world. And it will cost us nothing.
The writer is editor of Newsweek International and a columnist for Newsweek.