The latest instance of our stepping on our shvantz in the Middle East is the burning – or partial burning, which is worse, I guess – of a bunch of Qurans. Now... the most obvious question, which is the first one our sterling media should have asked, but didn't, is: What's the American military doing burning _any_ books in Afghanistan, to say nothing of Qurans? I mean... where in the job description of the average soldier does the phrase “burns books as needed” appear? But apparently it has something to do with security in prisons, or something. But if that's the case, why not just confiscate the books and store them in some safe place until the war is over (heh heh)... or donate them to the nearest mosque? And finally, what on earth business does the American military have “handling religious materials” in other countries? How would we feel if some occupying army came over here and started “handling religious materials”? The question pretty much answers itself.
But there is a broader issue of which this is only one small instance. It has to do with the “face of America” that is presented to the rest of the world. And in the case of military occupations, that face has nothing whatsoever to do with the pompous pronouncements of the president, or the mealy-mouthings of generals in air-conditioned “briefing rooms”. No, it consists mainly of the interactions of our military – our “boots on the ground” -- with the local populace. It's at that interface that our image is formed... and make no mistake, the data gathered at that interface has a way of percolating upward and outward, as we see on a daily basis. Ordinary Afghans don't need CNN to tell them what's happening in their own country, nor do they need NPR to make excuses for our commander-in-chief's aggressive posturing. They can see it right outside their own homes – or inside, in worse cases. So this is where our image is formed, and this is also the seedbed of the next generation of rebels, insurgents, fighters, “terrorists”. We reap dragon's teeth everywhere we go, it seems. And yet the spirit behind the burning of the Qurans – just as the spirit behind the urination scandal – is as pervasive as it is simplistic: We (Americans, that is) are the master race, and you'd better do things our way or accept the consequences. (Or – you'd better at least pretend to be doing things our way, which is all we ever do ourselves.)
Now, I'm not claiming that direct interaction with our troops is the only way the natives get news of what we're doing and what our intentions are; that's just the most immediate source. Other sources include news of Evangelical preachers burning Qurans over here... “contractors” (who turn out to be Evangelicals) being paid to brief our troops about what a horrible religion Islam is... political pep rallies where candidates (including Evangelicals) promise to start wars with any Moslem country we're not already at war with once in office... see any trends here? That's right, class – we're engaged in a religious war here, and there's no sense denying it. The “wall of separation of church and state”, which has never been all that secure on the domestic front, doesn't even exist when it comes to our foreign policy. We have, in effect, declared war on Islam on behalf of Israel and on our own behalf – and, again, no stammering denials by “top officials” either here or overseas is going to convince the Moslems otherwise. The few remaining Moslem leaders who are unambiguously on our side are increasingly accused of treason, treachery, and infidelity.
And while we're on the subject, let me point out some of the things the typical Afghan (or Iraqi, or any other) native _doesn't_ care about; they aren't even on his radar. He doesn't care about our “freedoms”, nor is he particularly envious of them. He doesn't care about the “American way of life”, because his local imam has told him that it's hopelessly decadent. He doesn't care about “democracy”, because – once again – all he sees of that is what the puppet leaders that we set up do, and how's that supposed to appeal to anyone? He only cares about “regime change” as it directly affects himself, his family, his tribe, his sect. And when it comes to American money... well, if we fly it over there by the planeload, he'll line up to grab whatever he can grab, and run off chuckling like the Beagle Boys in an old Scrooge McDuck comic. But if we're tying to buy loyalty by handing out the long green, forget about it. Might as well try and buy loyalty from a pet rattlesnake.
Well, I don't want to belabor the farcical aspects of our endless wars in the Middle East, because we all know by now – or we should – that none of this matters to the people in charge. They don't care how foolish we look, or how many people we offend, as long as their agenda is pursued with diligence, and that agenda has nothing to do with good will, or enhancing the life style of the natives, or bringing them the blessings of a benign government. And so yes, it is a bit hypocritical of people like Obama to fall over themselves “apologizing” for Quran-burning, and it's equally hypocritical of the Republican candidates to take Obama to task for these apologies. Don't they realize he doesn't mean it? Don't they realize it doesn't matter anyway? All it does is highlight the foolishness of what was, long ago, determined to be a fool's errand.