Blogs > HNN > Martyrs and the Traditor-in-Chief

Aug 17, 2010 7:01 pm

Martyrs and the Traditor-in-Chief

Timothy R. Furnish, Ph.D., is a recovering college professor and current writer, researcher and analyst specializing in Islamic history, sects, eschatology, ideology and Mahdism. He learned Arabic at taxpayers' expense while in the U.S. Army and, later, studied Farsi, Turkish and Ottoman while a doctoral student at Ohio State University. His first book was Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads and Osama bin Laden and his second, due out in 2010, is The Caliphate: Threat or Opportunity? He maintains an HNN blog, Occidental Jihadist, as well as a website dedicated to covering Mahdism and Muslim eschatology:

AP reported yesterday that “ten members of [a] Christian medical team,” six of them American, “were gunned down in a gruesome slaughter that the Taliban said they carried out, alleging the volunteers were spying and trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. The gunmen spared an Afghan driver, who recited verses from the Islamic holy book Quran….” The lead American was Dr. Tom Little, who had worked in Afghanistan for 30 years, was fluent in Dari and supervised a number of eye hospitals and clinics throughout Afghanistan. The Islam-motivated murders took place in Badakhshan, in Afghanistan’s northeast.

Now if the United States were really the “Crusader” state that many Muslims (and American liberals) hyperbolically accuse it of being, by now we would’ve rained down Predator or B-2 death indiscriminately on that region or, at the very least, be sending in our Christian retribution units, otherwise known as Special Forces. But neither of those things is happening. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that not one Obama Administration mouthpiece even deigns to mention, much less condemn, these Muslim religious murders of truly good Christians. That would run counter to the mendacious liberal narrative espoused by the President himself, and expressed by his sycophants like Eric Holder and John Brennan, that Islam teaches peace, love and universal brotherhood and only a relatively few “violent extremists” believe otherwise.

Obama and his merry band of dhimmis [second-class Christian and Jewish subjects under Islamic law] can lie all they want, but the fact is that the Qur’an literally teaches that Allah approves killing non-Muslims for various offenses; for example, Sura 9:5ff mandates attacking al-mushrikun, “polytheists”—and Christians are deemed such because of their belief in the Trinity. This is not something that Bin Ladin or Mullah Omar recently devised, or that the Bush Administration dreamed up to indict Muslims; this understanding goes back to the earliest days of Islam. And, unfortunately, it’s stll being acted on today. Yet the elected rulers of the world’s most populous Christian nation won’t lift a finger to help its own Christian citizens in foreign lands, to say nothing of the millions of non-American Christians around the globe being persecuted on a daily basis—mainly by Muslims. Some “Crusader” state we are.

In a recent article about the group LibForAll, which supports allegedly moderate Muslim groups, there is an account of a meeting between some Germans and a delegation from Cairo’s al-Azhar University/Mosque. The German official said “if the majority [of Germans] vote for Muslim law, that is what we will have”—whereupon the Egyptian Muslim muttered “they have no manhood.”

Neither, apparently, does Barack Obama –who talismanically recites the Qur’an in speeches, much like that Afghan driver did to save his own life, yet does nothing to prevent (or at the very least avenge) the Muslim murder of his own countrymen simply for living out their Christian faith. Our President, alas, has become a modern-day traditor: a “Christian” who betrays co-religionists to their persecutors—only now it’s the Muslims, not the pagan Romans, doing the persecuting.

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Timothy Furnish - 8/25/2010

Mr. Butler,
No need to "see into the hearts of Muslims" who tell the world why they are killing Christians (or Hindus, or Jews, or fellow Muslims). These Taliban murderers said that they killed the Christian doctors because "they were preaching Christianity." Not only was that a lie, but even if it WERE true--is that sufficient reason to kill someone?
You're a useful idiot, Mr. Butler. But, alas, not to your own civilization.

james joseph butler - 8/22/2010

Prof Furnish is lucky. He has 20/20 vision from thousands of miles away. He can see into the hearts of Muslims without needing to see. He knows why these people were slain and their possessions stolen because he can see their assassains' souls.

Timothy when a Predator murders Muslims from 2 miles high can you see why?

Timothy Furnish - 8/17/2010

Ms. Reyes,
Oh, I'd forgotten how much I missed your misapprehensions and misrepresentations of my writings.
1) Pray tell, what did I say that was unintelligent? Merely disliking something does not ipso facto render it "unintelligent."
2) I nowhere blamed "all Muslims" for anything. I did, one could argue, blame Islam itself. Big difference.
3) This is the last time I'll waste my time trying to explain to you: Christianity does not teach that infidels should be killed, beheaded, or enslaved. Islam does. SOME Muslims acts on it (SOME, note)--like the ones who killed Christians who were out of THEIR faith helping needy Afghanis with medical care. Your inability to see the differnce is your problem, not mine.

Nancy REYES - 8/15/2010

one expects intelligent commentary on a blog sponsored by a university.

Those killed had treated Muslims and cooperated with Muslims for 20 years, so why blame all Muslims for their deaths?

I guess I should blame "christians" because 30 of my coworkers were killed in Africa by "freedom fighters" who got funded by the World Council of Churches.

Nat Bates - 8/13/2010


I looked in to the burning of Bibles story, and found it to be accurate. Apparently, the Pentagon felt it necessary to burn Bibles written in Arabic (or was it Farsi? Urdu?) in order to stop what was perceived as proselytizing. Of course, radical Islamicists are free to proselytize in our prisons. So, what gives?

This was an act that was apparently done by Military Command. Theoretically, the President is the head of the Military. In practice, the Military often seems to decide its own policies even over and above the President and Congress. Thus, I do not see evidence that Obama ordered this directly (although it is theoretically possible).

Eisenhower warned of the Military-Industrial Complex, and a great deal of that Complex seems to interlock with Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Note how Halliburton relocated to the Arab Emirates. Halliburton equates to Cheney, obviously. If there really was a "democracy" agenda, relocating to Gulf Slave States was a fine way to show it!

Religion is generally used by the State to control. Islam may well be an easier way to control people than Christianity, since the latter lends itself to existentialism too easily. Thus, we have the apparent need to export Shariah in to Europe and perhaps even to America, in defiance of a Constitution explicitly divorcing religion from government (a divorce that made us the most religious society in the world due to religious freedom). Yet, again Professor, I do not see evidence that this appeasement began under Obama. Frankly, Obama bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia but at least he didn't hold his hand like Bush did!

Our own country was not founded according to any particular religion by its founders because they had no Constitutional authority to mandate any religion. The States would never have delegated such authority. Most of the States had their own Churches, or lack thereof, and would not have desired any theonomic vesting of sovereignty in the central government.

Separation of church and state was DEMANDED by Baptists and others who wanted to worship freely. This also means that we are not a secular society either. Really, the Federal Government is not supposed to be a religious body. We can argue over the Incorporation Doctrine and the States, but no early President would have argued over that point.

So, I suppose that linking the Military and the Bible together amounts to:

A)A presumption of power that is unconstitutional. Even though early Presidents like Jefferson used this tactic to subdue the Indians, remember that early Presidents often violated the Constitution. Yes, including those who signed it.

B) More importantly, it is unholy. Christianity became corrupted when married to the Roman State. Protestantism came out of Rome, and was as corrupted as Rome. That is why early American Christians agreed with Deists and secularists on one point, that the Anglican/Presbyterian agenda to enforce state religion was out. We have been a more religious society than Europe ever since. Remember that Jefferson rewrote the Bible as part of his agenda to link religion and politics. Is that what Christians want, a Bible rewritten?

Frankly, I have the sense that a wave of anti-Islamic secularism will sweep the Middle East precisely because people there are fed up with religion and politics together. Do not suppose that they will necessarily love us or Israel, however, because Ba'athism and Marxist-Leninism might be viable in their eyes.

OK, my point? Burning the Bibles was abhorrent. My other point? Bush probably would have done it too, albeit secretly. The best solution would have been to establish Afghanistan as a state with separation of Mosque and State. Instead, we brought the Emir of Unocal in to office as Grand Pasha. In any case, you have made your point. Take care. Too much of this is hard on my dizziness.

Elliott Aron Green - 8/13/2010

Tim, I think that you also meant to mention the Ankara speech by President Wonder Boy. That was his first speech in a Muslim land and it was bad enough.
It already contained his disavowal of his pre-election promise on the Armenian genocide.

I don't want to forget the Inauguration speech either ["Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus"] or his interview shortly after the inauguration with al-Arabiya.

N. Friedman - 8/13/2010

You write: "Have you seen any articles from the foreign viewpoint that indicate people outside the U.S. understand the difficulties our politicians face because of the Iraq war?"

I think that I may have read such an article or two or three but, I must note, such articles are rare. Such is not usually the concern of foreigners.

N. Friedman - 8/13/2010

I am not a Bush fan. And, certainly not a Cheney fan. The Iraq War has not proven to be helpful to the US - at least not for the short term, if it ever will. And, I agree that presidents should not be poll driven - although, a president does need to be mindful of not losing the public, something Obama is now doing for a whole host of reasons.

N. Friedman - 8/13/2010


You write: "I think most historians will conclude that the U.S. paid a real price domestically and politically for the Iraq war, in terms of people becoming more isolationist and more leery of politicianws banging the drums for war."

I am not hoping for him to bang a drum for war. I, however, note, taking Mr. Goldberg's article at face value - which is a reckless approach but, nonetheless, useful for this discussion - that the President's policy has sewn uncertainty among our allies and, quite possibly, as our allies note, sent a indecisive message to Iran. If so, I have a difficult time understanding any rationale to such a policy.

Which is to say, his policy seems to have allies running for cover and enemies emboldened. Maybe things look different to the President but, surely, he ought realize how his actions are seen by others, both in the US and abroad.

Perhaps, you are arguing, as was said of Nixon in his Watergate days - and correct me if I am wrong, since I know you know more on your fingertips about that period than I ever will -, that the President is distanced from the world about him in a manner than can cause him to misconceive what is going outside of his cocoon?

As for your intended point, I think you are correct. I also note that the article quotes an Arab diplomat who indicates that the President, for the protection of the US, needs to look not only to the domestic situation but to the unfolding disaster being caused by Iran.

N. Friedman - 8/13/2010


In my whole life, you are the first ever to call me a "dude." How did I earn that honor?

As for your comment, I realize that a president sees things from his own special perch. One issue, I would think, is what he sees and why. And, that leads to a question of whether what he sees is realistic - which is not quite the same question as whether or not he is making good decisions.

Maarja Krusten - 8/13/2010

Hello again, Andrew. I apologize if the end of my post to you yesterday was a little confusing. Obviously the he whom I said could have done things differently during the Vietnam war was Nixon, not Agnew, whose speeches I had just mentioned. It was Nixon’s innocent daughters who sometimes were unfairly denounced in signs and chants against the war, obviously. As a fed, I can’t take positions on what our policies should be. I can discuss what happened in the past. And I have a deep interest in tactical issues.

As you know, during my work at NARA, I met Nixon’s former chief of staff, H. R. (Bob) Haldeman, whom I came to respect, even like, for his manning up to his role in the way things went awry in the Nixon White House. Bob, who was very, very intelligent and able, made some very interesting observations informally and in oral history interviews with us about the environment in which presidents work, as did another aide, “Bud” Krogh, in his 2007 book, Integrity. For a position with such power, the presidency has some weaknesses that are very difficult to fix.

One of the things that struck me in working with Nixon’s tapes and documents was the difficulty of “keeping it real” as far as the domestic and political impact of what you are doing. Sure, Nixon kept up with polling results in some of those seemingly endless convos with Haldeman. And his conversations and written records reflect discussion of both antiwar sentiment and the “Silent Majority” which supported him (of which I was a part then). What he didn’t see, often, however, were the sentiments of the anguished people who wrote to him with expressions of love of country but deep, deep anxiety about what the U.S. should be doing at home and abroad. Their letters ended up largely filed in the White House Central Files subject categories now at the National Archives. My own Nixon supportive letters (and my late sister’s) among them!

We ordinary Americans sit down once a year with our bosses for an annual review of our performance. The feedback presidents get is not nearly so straightforward, nor do they get it face to face. Not can they translate it into something actionable as easily as we can. While we walk away after meeting with our bosses and say, “OK, glad he liked this, but I gotta do a little better with that,” in the White House, the response often is “shift the blame.” That is because the political environment is so advesarial, it allows almost no room for public admission of error. As John Podhoretz once said, “people who reach this West Wing level are, generally speaking, not especially reflective people.” I also recommend David Brooks’s October 16, 2007 column, “A Small Still Voice,” in which he discussed the “soul destroying” process of campaigning for office and how some politicians come to confuse the bromides they mouthe on the campaign trail with their real selves, thereby losing authenticity they once had. Sad to say, for all that is at stake in actions taken by presidents, many of the life skills we use at work and within our families, including admitting error and seeking to understand cause and effect, often are set aside.

Eh, with all my long ruminations on this tactical stuff, you can see I've given this a lot of thought over the years. It’s obvious I have to write a book about this one day. Work in progress, I guess.

Timothy Furnish - 8/13/2010

Mr. Bates,
Sorry, I've been a bit busy. At the risk of appearing even more politically incorrect than I already do, the point of my article was not the lack of (any) American administration's support for "religious freedom"--it was specifically the Obama adminstration's failure to hold the Islamic world accountable for its undeniable persecution of Christians. This President kowtows to Muslim leaders and, worse, false views of history (as he did in Cairo last year and in his Nobel acceptance speech--as I outlined in my of my previous blogs on HNN). At the same time, the U.S. military under his watch burns Bibles so as not to offend Muslims ( Bush was bad enough, and I have taken him to task in a number of my writings. But, sir, he has been out of office now for 18+ months and I feel no need to relexively gloss evey criticism of Obama with one of Bush. Obama is far more pro-Muslim, apologetic for his country and much less likely to speak up as a Christian vis-a-vis Islam than was Bush.

Nat Bates - 8/13/2010

Professor Furnish:

Sir. Again, I repeat my question. You referred to President Obama as "Traditor in Chief." So, my question would be; Are all of our Presidents in that category since none have ever really pushed for religious freedom in the Middle East?

We have heard about "democracy," and "Middle East peace" but never about religious pluralism from any of our Presidents since we have become involved in the Middle East. So, how is President Obama any different?

Maarja Krusten - 8/12/2010

Sorry for the all typos above (obviously that should have been public, etc.) Of course, I read the Atlantic article before I responded. That's why I wrote that things look different depending on where you sit. By that I mean that Obama and other politicians of both parties U.S. voters to deal with, just as did LBJ, Nixon, Bush and Cheney. And of course, budget issues loom large these days in Washington. (Gates just announced some more proposed cutbacks). Whatever they do in foreign affairs, U.S. politicians have to justify to the public and sell them on it.

Have you seen any articles from the foreign viewpoint that indicate people outside the U.S. understand the difficulties our politicians face because of the Iraq war? And the extent to which the decision to go to war in Iraq and the way that war played out increased isolationist sentiment in some quarters? The Atlantic piece touches on what it takes to be the views of some Obama supporters but doesn't look at the question more broadly in terms of the Iraq war and its domestic impact across the political spectrum in America. Gulf War I affected the so-called Vietnam war syndrome in a somewhat positive way but Gulf War II has had a negative, regressive effect with some voters here.

It's getting late, time to turn in.

Maarja Krusten - 8/12/2010

Just to be clear, I'm not saying policy should be poll driven. I mean presidents and their vice presidents have an obligation to make the best case they can to the people for what they are doing. Because the people do vote.

Yes, it can be difficult. As a writer of a letter to the editor of the New York Times wrote laughingly earlier this year, there seem to be *rules* that say that politicians *have* to tell voters that the American people are the greatest and the smartest and the best. Kind of like giving every child a gold star in kingergarten, "you're all so special!" If I flatter you enough, you'll vote for me, yay. So there's a lot of baloney involved in politics. The public is responsible for that more so than politicians, in my view. If it didn't go over so well, the politicians wouldn't do it.

Cheney didn't do that. But he was openly dismissive, even contemptuous, when asked in interviews while in office about public concerns about Iraq. That backfired for his party. I mean, soldiers were dying and the deficit was increasing and people wanted to know was the expenditure of treasure and lives worth it. Those are issues that have to be addressed. And not by snarking about lack of patriotism and a "pre-9/11 mindset," which some of Bush's surrogates did when referring to Iraq war critics. That backfired terribly as public support for the war sank and more and more ordinary people *joined* the category of those who had been snarked about. Really a bad move. I've never seen a president as badly served by his surrogates as W., who biographers probably will conclude actually was a decent man, was.

My point, you can never look at what is to be done in a vacuum. You have to look at sustainability, how to sell it, and how to persuade voters to support it. Presidents have to be able to say to the pubic, "come, walk with me." It can be very hard to do.

Maarja Krusten - 8/12/2010

P.S. N., you've seen the polls about how the U.S. public views Afghanistan. And how it viewed Iraq. I think most historians will conclude that the U.S. paid a real price domestically and politically for the Iraq war, in terms of people becoming more isolationist and more leery of politicianws banging the drums for war. I'm not sharing my judgment on that, just commenting on the polls. I have said that people such as Vice President Cheney really hurt the GOP with his "I don't care what polls say" attitude. Because the people in 2008 responded by saying, "Oh yeah, well, we'll take away the keys to the office from your party." Sustainability matters, in that sense, and the Cheneyites forgot that. Whatever is happening now and in the future is in part due to that, although I doubt the former VP ever will admit that. He doesn't strike me as the type for soul searching a la McNamara.

Polls suggest there is a lot more sentiment among voters for "tending one's own garden" and focusing on domestic issues than there was before the Iraq war. As I noted above, the antiwar left and the libertarian wing of the GOP both show some of that. Wouldn't be the case to such an extent without Iraq.

Maarja Krusten - 8/12/2010

N., dude, presidents interpret national interest differently. It's always been that way. No one is infallible and the paths never are crystal clear, however much advocates of one policy or another may believe they are. Even reality differs depending on where one lives and where one sits. That's as much as I can say, other than the Middle East is a real mess, all around.

Maarja Krusten - 8/12/2010

Thank you for your kind words, Andrew. It's always good to hear from you. However, I am not and have not taken a policy position on what the U.S. should do now in matters of foreign policy and homeland security. I'm merely pointing to what happened to past U.S. presidents and to the extremely difficult nexus of the (often immature) political world and the (often extremely difficult) policy world.

Presidents end up trapped in really bad situations because they can't talk candidly about so many things. I don't mean about security classified stuff. I mean levelling with the public about other things. It's kind of like being trapped in a bad marriage where you have no zone of trust with your spouse and can't "be yourself." For presidents, the public can be like the spouse you have to placate while you think, "man, if only I could share the real deal with you." I wish there were a way to elevate the political, ease up on the reductionism and the posturing and to raise the level of discourse. But that's incredibly difficult. Still, I think most of us would hate having to work like that, where you toggle between your real work and then put on an often awfully simplified mask when you step outside.

You've read my other stuff so you know that I think Nixon, for whom I voted it, could have handled anti-war sentiment differently than he did. As I've noted, while I cheered Vice President Spiro Agnew's "red meat" speeches as an undergraduate, I later concluded he would have done better had he striven to acknowledge the difficulties the public faced with the Vietnam war. Of course, it was incredibly difficult for him as a father to see and hear of signs which made his children a target (using the F word about Tricia, for example.) Such behavior was cowardly. But then, a lot of politics involves cowardly behavior. The whole thing with Vietnam really was a mess.

N. Friedman - 8/12/2010


You write: "Did you see the vid that Rick Shenkman posted a couple of years ago on HNN of a presentation by Philip Zelikow at AHA, in which he spoke of his work as an historian at the Department of State with Condi Rice?"

No. I did not see it. I do, however, take your point.

Returning to the original topic, which brought some fireworks, I know you prefer to give the benefit of the doubt to the President. Notwithstanding all the good points that you have made, I still have difficulty squaring the President's policies with reality. I do not think they are well explained as being, ala Nixon, more complicated than they seem.

I think that they are simply inept policies, not Machiavellian policies which are difficult to understand. I reiterate that the probability of a major war in the Middle East is increasing, not decreasing. Read this article, which I think is as informative as any I have seen.

Andrew D. Todd - 8/12/2010

Diplomacy has been famously defined as the art of saying "nice doggie" while looking for a rock. That sounds almost like the kind of thing Ambrose Bierce might have coined, but the language is twentieth-century, not nineteenth-century. I like the definition of Sir Henry Wooten, the seventeenth-century English diplomat who wrote that an ambassador is "... a man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country." Obviously, Obama, like Nixon before him, is not able to talk frankly about the countries we are embroiled in, or to say just how little these countries matter to our national interests. Like Nixon before him, he has to proceed by indirection towards a unilateral pull-out, using meaningless phrases like "Peace With Honor." It does not seem overwhelmingly important which meaningless phrases he utters. The main point is bringing the boys back home. In the spring of 1970, forty years ago, Nixon made one last effort to win the Vietnam War, the invasion of Cambodia, and then he started bringing the boys back home.

N. Friedman - 8/12/2010

Mr. Furnish,

I greatly respect you as well - being one who pushes your book, as you know.

I think you missed my point. The issue is not reading the words for what they say - which you are quite correct about - but deciding which words to act upon.

Let's remove this from Islam for a second. There are two statements of importance in an imagined religious tradition - "the faith of the magical infidel haters": one command says: kill the infidel now, right now, and without asking any questions; the other says, God forgives infidel who repent and adopt the true faith, so do not kill before giving that infidel an opportunity to do so. These two commands co-exist in this magical faith.

If we are literalists, both commands must be followed. But, that is not logically possible, since the commands are contradictory. My suggestion to you is that Islam contains such contradictions.

So, there is the command in Islam - no compulsion in religions. Yet, that literal command is superseded, as we both know full well, by other commands which are followed due to their later order of appearance in Mohammad's rolling revelation.

It is, I submit, not possible to have a system of commands which are wholly consistent so as to allow true literalism in the sense you suggest. This is a problem that legal systems always face. That is why courts have to choose among competing laws.

However, I agree with you that in Islam the wording, once the preference of one command over another is decided, is taken quite literally by a great many, if not most, Muslims including the Taliban.

Timothy Furnish - 8/12/2010

Mr. Friedman,
I greatly respect your opinion but please tell me how suras 47:3, 8:12 (behead infidels on the battlefield) 9:5 (attack, besiege, ambush infidels until they convert) and 48:29 (Muslims should be kind to one another, but not to non-Muslims) do NOT result in violence against non-Muslims when taken literally?
The Taliban are not "interpreting" other than literally. That is the problem, pure and simple. IF they could take a batini, rather than a zahiri view (as do the Isma'ilis, for example), then they could argue or at least be persuaded, perhaps, that Muhammad meant "rhetorical decapitation" of non-Muslims. But they don't, and they can't. I really fail to see how you think that this is a matter of some (presumably aberrant) exegesis.

N. Friedman - 8/12/2010


You write: "I for one do not subscribe to the 'religion of peace' view." Nor should you.

The issue, however, that you addressed was Mr. Furnish's position that the Taliban takes a literalist view of the Islam's sacred texts. My view is that (a) the Taliban does no such thing and (b) there is no way to take a literalist view on those texts due to their various contradictions.

So far as how Bush would have responded, I have no idea. I was never a Bush fan. I am, thus far, not an Obama fan either. He has already lost my vote.

So far, they have behaved like serial dopes, both seeming to believe that there is a happy ending, if only we, ala Bush, bring 'em Democracy while taking half-measures in fighting or, ala Obama, kill hateful ideology with soothing words that amount to nothing while continuing to take half-measures in fighting. There is no happy ending to this dispute; one side or the other will prevail.

Nat Bates - 8/12/2010

There are civilizations I like, and civilizations I do not like. Islamic civilization is...well, no comment but I think we can all agree about the danger here. I for one do not subscribe to the "religion of peace" view.

My main point is that I do not believe Obama and Bush would have differed. Was Bush a Traditor in Chief?

Maarja Krusten - 8/12/2010

I'll have to keep this short because I'm sitting in a reception area cooling my heels and waiting for a colleague whose previous meeting seriously has run over. Eh, it happens, you learn to be patient. I always carry my smartphones so I can check out stuff. Like a good fed, I have a gov. issued BB for federal email and a personal one for personal work. No Karl Rove "mistakes" in handling my record keeping for me as a former NARA employee, LOL. Excellent points about the disagreements about cause and effect among historians in certain fields. And all kinds of crazy stuff affects the way they deal w/ each other 2. That does complicate my call for more engagement. The self selection ones sees in activisim might well lead people to engage but present skewed findings. I overlooked that because of my federal acculturation, where you learn to operate effectively and reach people regardless of which party is in power. Did you see the vid that Rick Shenkman posted a couple of years ago on HNN of a presentation by Philip Zelikow at AHA, in which he spoke of his work as an historian at the Department of State with Condi Rice? That had a lot of resonance for me, especially when he spoke of writing history at the lower, helicopter level rather only than from the level of a high flying airplane. I don't know Zelikow and I would have done some (not all) things differently than he but that's just me. I do know other historians who have worked at State.

Gotta go, here comes my dude 30 minutes late, take care.

N. Friedman - 8/12/2010


Thanks for your, as usual, interesting comments.

You write: The public actually is very tricky for all presidents to deal with, given general ignorance about non-U.S. values and cultures and a yearning for simple, feel-good solutions.

That is certainly the case, although I think you greatly exaggerate the degree of the public's ignorance. I think that while the public is not expert on all of the intricacies of foreign cultures, they are well aware of the differences that impact on Americans. That is all one can or ought expect of the public.

You write: "That the academy has the reputation as condescending, left-leaning elites that it does -- some of it warranted -- is most unfortunate."

I think one of the President's problems with the public is that he comes across as a condescending academic (and, of course, he is a former academic). That is in addition to whatever differences exist about public policy. A seemingly less aloof approach might keep him closer to the public.

You write: "I've long encouraged historians to backfill behind politicians (who sometimes are terribly trapped in what they can do to educate the voters, due to a need to throw red meat to their base) as authoritative figures."

One problem here is that historians disagree vigorously about things. And, in the case of the Middle East - and this really is an important point to consider -, politics is involved to a degree that it allows historians to elide material that do not like.

So, we have historians who see only evil in Islamic history and, at the opposite extreme, we have historians who elide all reference to imperial ideology, derived from religion - an ideology which has clearly dominated Islam's history. So, were historians to step up to the plate, the public would gain little, hearing historians taking sides.

In that regard, take Bernard Lewis. He is, by any rational account, an historian of rare gift. Not only does he dig deep, attempt to be fair to those he writes about, but he is a wonderful writer. To his critics, however, the fact that he finds many, albeit, not all, of the causes for what ails the Islamic regions pre-date Western Imperialism, he is worthless.

The meaning and impact of Imperialism is a great dividing line among scholars who write about the Muslim regions. In large measure, such divide revolves around the literary criticism of Edward Said, who sees the writings of historians like Bernard Lewis as serving the interests of Imperialists and, hence, invalid - tainted by a form of racist condescension towards Islam.

Turning to the rest of your post, I thank you for your book recommendation. I shall add the book to my list.

Maarja Krusten - 8/12/2010

Hi, N., thanks for your thoughtful and reasonable note. The public actually is very tricky for all presidents to deal with, given general ignorance about non-U.S. values and cultures and a yearning for simple, feel-good solutions. I've long encouraged historians to backfill behind politicians (who sometimes are terribly trapped in what they can do to educate the voters, due to a need to throw red meat to their base) as authoritative figures. That the academy has the reputation as condescending, left-leaning elites that it does -- some of it warranted -- is most unfortunate. I don't know what that stems from, having gone the federal route since I was 25 and in the process of finishing grad school. We need more non-partisan scholars to step up and to engage with the public to counter ignorance and to encourage more nuanced thinking. Joe and Jill Sixpack lead busy, stress filled lives and often don't have time to do anything but dip into issues. Family and pocketbook concerns come first, as they must. So engaging a wide spectrum of the public is a challenge.

If you haven't read any of the recent books about Barack Obama, I recommend Jonathan Alter's The Promise and David Remnick's The Bridge. I'm a voracious reader of books about presidents (big surprise, huh?), ones I've voted for and ones I voted against. Having learned about Nixon at the most intimate aned human and basic levels, I soak up as much as I can about his successors from insider and outsider sources.

Maarja Krusten - 8/12/2010

@Mr. Furnish, true, but the "ZOMG, I don't like it, the people I support aren't in charge any more so I gotta demonize those who are" approach also tremendously undermined my confidence in people such as you. Such rhetoric is a dime a dozen, although counter productive. It's all over talk radio, cable, and on partisan blogs.

You're smart. You know stuff. But you've sidelined yourself, unnececessarily. Public discourse would benefit from dudes who know stuff and who can speak authoritatively about it. And, most importantly, reach the widest possible audience. Rather than resorting, as you said in an earlier comment, to punches in the teeth. When I'm figuratively punched in the teeth, my response tends to be "expletive deleted" and a digging in of my heels. That's human nature. That's why the radio and tv blowhards are stuck with an echo chamber and are unable to win converts who aren't already cheering in their corners.

Did your read the OPM qualification standards for GS-14 historians? They produce studies, testify before the Congress, help decision makers by explaining what happened in the past, and providing context and texture. We feds who have served through Republican and Democratic administrations could use some more knowledgeable people in our ranks. The JFK generation ("ask what you can do for your country") of which I am the last cohort, having finished high school in 1969, is nearing or at retirement age. Richard Hewlett, the so-called dean of federal historians, once wrote that “we need more historians who are willing to commit themselves to a career or at least to a period of several years as government historians.” (See Hewlett, “Government History: Writing from the Inside,” in Frank C. Evans and Harold T. Pinkett, eds., Research in the Administration of Public Policy (Washington: Howard University Press, 1975)

I can't see you doing that type of public service but even from the outside, you could work towards good outcomes. But you took yourself out of the picture with this essay. That's actually a loss for the rest of us as well as for you.

Auditors are required to formally acknowledge their impairments -- its a term of art in the profession that refers to biases and personal or professional entanglements which might affect their ability to look at something without prejudice. Historians aren't. Some work to set aside their biases, others wallow in them. One simply uncovers their impairments -- the balls and chains they drag -- by dipping into their writing. I've acknowledged mine, which are tactical -- a leeriness about zealots, what their rhetoric seems to imply about their methodologies and values, and caution about certain types of right wingers' ruthlessnes. It comes from facing fire from people for whom I had once voted and seeing DOJ put presidential prerogatives and protection of one party above what the law required with archival records. When I fought my battles at NARA, I was fighting for historians, collectively, even for you.

You seem wedded to a certain POV and determined to keep hammering to make your points fit it. To quote Terry Malloy, you "coulda been a contenda." Your chose something else. Like everyone else, you have to live with the consequences of your choices, including, unfortunately, self-marginalization. That's not to say you may not be a hero to some readers and have your cheerleaders, too. But you've chosen exclusivity which limits your effectiveness.

Timothy Furnish - 8/11/2010

Ah, but my "over the top" rhetoric got a number of folks discussing the issue, did it not?

N. Friedman - 8/11/2010


You write: But there is nothing in any of the comments posted here by you or others to back up Mr. Furnish’s contention that President Obama does nothing to prevent the murder of Christians and that he is “a ‘Christian’who betrays co-religionists to their persecutors.”

The first contention - that he does nothing - is difficult to argue against. So far as rhetoric is concerned, he has not done anything. Moreover, there has been no change of policy, so far as is known, to make such events less likely to occur.

The second contention, by contrast, is over the top. So, I agree with you about that.

You write: You’re confusing the public face of the administration with what goes on behind the scenes. And you way overemphasize the public statements. Neither you or Mr. Furnish or I dare say most people reading HNN know what the internal approach is.

Your point is well taken. However, I would note that the public face of things is, in fact, of some considerable importance. The sense I have is that the administration's public approach is to downplay the threat from the Islamists. That tends to disarm the public from believing that the Islamists are a real threat or, in some cases - since public pronouncements do not occur in a vacuum, with pundits and opposition politicians asserting the existence of a threat -, leads to a credibility gap with the public the president is charged to lead. Either way, I do not see it as being good policy.

As for internal discussions, you may well be correct. I stand by your explanation as well informed, as always.

The rest of what you write is very informative. Thank you. I think you have made, as always, excellent points. So, if you do not wish to discuss the matter further, I have still learned from you and I understand.

Maarja Krusten - 8/11/2010

N., I read your link as I’ve read what you and others have written about Islam here and elsewhere. Much of it was familiar to me. While you summarize things well, none of this bolsters or supports the findings (as they say in the world of auditing) of the author of the blog post. You are right that Mr. Furnish’s blog essay is not history but opinion. Something about it must have caught Rick or Dave’s eye that it ended up on the main page this week. But there is nothing in any of the comments posted here by you or others to back up Mr. Furnish’s contention that President Obama does nothing to prevent the murder of Christians and that he is “a ‘Christian’who betrays co-religionists to their persecutors.” If this were a closing statement at a trial, a jury would say, “not guilty.”

I’ll have to use analogies to respond to your comments since I can’t speak directly. Your assertion in an earlier comment that the administration has an internal approach that dismisses what those who wish to harm the U.S. say is their motivation is not true. You’re confusing the public face of the administration with what goes on behind the scenes. And you way overemphasize the public statements. Neither you or Mr. Furnish or I dare say most people reading HNN know what the internal approach is.

N., the government does NOT work that way. It never has and never will. I know you’re at a disadvantage here but let me put it this way. You’re a lawyer. I don’t know where you work but it may be for a law firm or you may be a corporate lawyer. Do all the complicated internal debates and deliberations at your firm align precisely with what your public affairs spokesperson says? Can I read the press releases and see what is going on? Or are the statements bland, superficial, calming and only marginally related to what is going on? Do partners or corporate officials spell out in interviews and speeches all that goes into decisions over when to go to trial and when to settle? Are what the litigation strategy is for complex cases. Of course not. No workplace operates that way.

What I think you have done is misunderstand the strategy described in the article you linked to earlier at The money quote in the article, the one I would ask you to zero in on, is the one that states “Visiting communist China in 1984, Reagan spoke to Fudan University in Shanghai about education, space exploration and scientific research. He discussed freedom and liberty. He never mentioned communism or democracy.” Does that mean Reagan misunderstood the nature of totalitarian communism? Heck no. Did he discuss strategic issues that way in private with his senior advisors. Of course not! It was a deliberate effort to cool down and make more low key a situation which, if it heated up, he and his team absolutely were prepared to counter. He and his advisors were well served by using *all* the tools in the toolkit. All presidents do that.

Think of it as adding tools to a toolkit. That’s what is going on. That the U.S. was heading that way already showed up in some of SecDef Gates’s comments during the the last two years of the Bush administration.

N., read SecDef Gates’s speech from 2007, available at
A news report is here but you really have to read the speech. That puts into context some of the things that seem to have worried you when you heard about the strategy document. What the U.S. has done in the last few years – and this started during the Bush administration – is publicly to *add* tools to its toolkit. You seem to misinterpret this as emptying the kit of all the other tools and leaving only one there, a tool you regard as ineffective. Not the way it works.

Heck, cabinet departments and federal agencies even draw on historians to assist them. That’s been going on for a long time although the public isn’t privy to all the studies they prepare. Go to and read the description on pages 14 and 15. That some new guy rolls into town as leader and everything anyone ever knew or understood flies out the window and feds start from scratch just isn’t the way it works. I'm used to seeing random bloggers assert that "OMG everything has changed we r doomed" every time the dude they voted for loses and the other party takes over. But they don't know how the internal advisory and deliberatie mechanims work, where the brakes and speed bumps are, and what delicate calibrations go on behind closed doors. Hey, that's an idea, when I eventually retire, I might just write a book about the real Washington.

Old HNN buddy, that's as much as I can do here. Seriously.

N. Friedman - 8/11/2010

I thought you mentioned once that you were his student. My apology for misspeaking. Senility has descended on me while still young. SMILE

Timothy Furnish - 8/11/2010

Mr. Friedman,
Heading out the door but at this juncture I must say: David Cook is a friend of mine, but in no wise a "mentor." In fact, I'm older than him.

N. Friedman - 8/11/2010


Please see my comment here.

N. Friedman - 8/11/2010


You make some interesting arguments, some, but not all, of which I am in agreement.

First, I agree with you that, pace Mr. Furnish, we are not dealing so much with literalism as with an interpretation of the Islamic sacred texts.

However, Mr. Furnish is not wrong to note that a, if not the most, natural interpretation of those texts involves not only a dim view of infidel but prescribes a response to their existence. And, to note: the traditional interpretation - i.e. the one taken by the four major Sunni schools of jurisprudence and by the major Shi'a school - places substantial emphasis on fighting the infidels until they pay the jizya tax and feel themselves subdued. As explained, back in the very early years of the 20th Century, by that period's preeminent scholar of Islam, Ignaz Goldhizer:

In addition to the religious duties imposed upon each individual professing Islam, the collective duty of the "jihad" (= "fighting against infidels") is imposed on the community, as represented by the commander of the faithful. Mohammed claimed for his religion that it was to be the common property of all mankind, just as he himself, who at first appeared as a prophet of the Arabs, ended by proclaiming himself the prophet of a universal religion, the messenger of God to all humanity, or, as tradition has it, "ila al-aḥmar wal-aswad" (to the red and the black). For this reason unbelief must be fought with the force of weapons, in order that "God's word may be raised to the highest place." Through the refusal to accept Islam, idolaters have forfeited their lives. Those "who possess Scriptures" ("ahl al-kitab"), in which category are included Jews, Christians, Magians, and Sabians, may be tolerated on their paying tribute ("jizyah") and recognizing the political supremacy of Islam (sura ix. 29). The state law of Islam has accordingly divided the world into two categories: the territory of Islam ("dar al-Islam") and the territory of war. ("dar al-ḥarb"), i.e., territory against which it is the duty of the commander of the faithful ("amir al-mu'minin") to lead the community in the jihad.

Goldhizer considered himself a friend of Islam, having been the first non-Muslim to study at al-Azhar. What he writes is not something new to the Taliban. However, and again, pace Mr. Furnish, such, like the Taliban interpretation, involves an interpretation of the texts, not a literal reading.

Second, there are passages of the Hebrew Scriptures that speak to violence. They are, so far as I know, all limited by their passages - such that a "literal reading" thereof does not point in favor of generalized violence against infidel - only against specific infidels (none of which remain on Earth). And, such interpretation is not the interpretation given now, or (so far as I know), at any time by the Rabbis. So, on that point, I think you are mistaken. And, I might add: the Christian Testament does not advocate generalized violence by any literal reading either.

Third, the Islamic interpretation normally employed involves contextualizing the Koran's words - since it is not all that much a collection of stories but, instead, poetic type writing and sermon like exhortations - with reference to Mohammad's life. Hence, the portion of his early preaching in Mecca is tied to his more peaceful pronouncements while his more warlike pronouncements are normally associated with his time in Medina.

In that the warlike pronouncements occur later in time and with reference to his being a leader of a vital community, not one under suspicion and siege, such pronouncements are normally interpreted, to the extent they contradict earlier pronouncements, to supersede the earlier pronouncements. In that there is an unambiguous call in his later life to fight the infidel until they pay the jizya (i.e. poll tax) and feel themselves subdued, such pronouncement supersedes all peaceful pronouncements, as the religion is interpreted by it various dominant schools of law.

Were the issue one of literal reading, then one could not adopt a unified interpretation of the Koran, since there are contradictory pronouncements. But, the interpretation which is based on Mohammad's biography, which finds support in the traditions, etc., makes the position presented by Goldhizer the most natural interpretation.

Hence, the issue that many have with Islam.

Fourth, where I differ with such dim view of Islam is that the traditional interpretation points to an imperial political policy of a country or empire, not a personal call to wreak havoc. The call for individuals to wreak havoc, while having substantial precedent in Islamic history (see e.g., God's Rule - Government and Islam: Six Centuries of Medieval Islamic Political Thought, by Patricia Crone, which discusses the inability of leaders to control elements of the faithful who, during the early centuries of the religion, would move to the boundaries with infidel states and conduct terrorist raids in infidel states), is contrary to what the important legal schools teach.

Their teachings call for a community endeavor - i.e. via an army, supported by the work of a community in its various productive ways (e.g. by paying taxes) - to extend the territory ruled by Muslims under Islamic law. However, individuals are called upon, if Islam is under attack or Islamic lands are under attack, to act as individuals as necessary for the defense of Islam and Islamic territory.

So, I would compare Islamic teachings to that one would find when discussing the Roman Empire. There is, accordingly, a considerable martial tradition but that, in itself, does not condemn Islam and all its works. After all, Rome had its many accomplishments, as has Islamic civilization.

Fifth, where I would side with Mr. Furnish is when he warns about the current state of Islam, with its private jihadists claiming to be defending Islam from destruction and seeking, at the same time, to expand Islamic territory. And, I would side with him in noting that efforts to elide the martial teachings is disreputable, since their existence and importance are really beyond any rational debate.

Lastly, I would note, with reference to Mr. Furnish's mentor, Prof. David Cook, author of the excellent book, Understanding Jihad, that the Islamic teaching on Jihad makes it akin to the ascetic ideal in Western thinking. Cook focuses on the Hadith (i.e. Tradition) that reads, "Islam has no asceticism; Jihad (in this case, involving war) is the asceticism of Islam." While Prof. Goldhizer notes that the origin of Hadith is associated with a group opposed to Sufism, Prof. Cook emphasizes the importance in the Islamic tradition that the noted Hadith has taken on. He notes the various writings about the life and death of Jihadist, written about as living an ascetic existence.

I mention this to note that, in understanding today's Jihadists and the Taliban, we should be cognizant of the type of life which is being taught. It is an ascetic one that ends with the alleged sweet smelling death of the Jihadist. Hence, we are dealing with something dangerous.

Nat Bates - 8/11/2010

Ah, I see what you are saying. Your argument is as such:

The Taliban is following a literal interpretation of Islam. Thus, fundamentalist fanaticism is a natural outgrowth of Islam, whereas with other religions/philosophies fanaticism is more interpretive. Thus, I err in lumping Christian and Islamic fanaticism together.

OK, now that I understand you, I will attempt to address the argument.

One could argue that Jesus was "not a Christian" because the later Christian Church sold out his teachings on non-violence and non-greed when they partnered with the State and economic interests. Today's Republican Right would be anathema to him, for sure. One could argue that Marx was "not a Marxist" (actual quote) because he disagreed with the authoritarian dogmatism of the movement, and would probably have disagreed with the PC of most radicals today. Marx wanted men strong and women soft, after all, and one wonders what he would have made of bourgeois Judges striking down workingclass people on the issue of what defines marriage.

In addition, Newton was "not a Newtonian" because Isaac Newton was very comfortable with mysticism and Biblical Prophecy. His writings were kept vry hidden from "Newtonians" because the Newtonians would have been shocked at writings they would have labelled unscientific. And yes, Darwin may well have not been a "Darwinian" in the Dawkinsian sense because Origin of Species contains reference to an original Creator on the very last page.

Now, in the aforementioned cases, we have fundamentalist interpretations of people who seem to have been very literal. Now, was Mohammed "a Muslim" in that he would have approved of current barbarism or would he have been opposed as being too liberal if he were alive today? That is a question that is probably undecidable given logical axioms we could blandly assume. Even a close reading of the Koran has to be distinguished in its time and place, as with the Torah, the Gita, or any other religious writing that *SEEMS* to sanction war if read literalistically. It may be that Mohammedism is unique in that the murderous interpretation IS the correct interpretation, whereas with all of these other philosophies it is the false interpretation. Or, perhaps Mohammed would also be appalled at what he sees in the barbaric Middle East of today.

My position is that it does not matter. Whether Talibanism is a logical outgrowth of Mohammed or not, it is a common mode of human ignorance. Most ignorant societies that are led by fanatics become "Talibanist" regardless of ideology, and regardless of whether such ideology is a natural consequence of the actual ideology. Educated people may see the difference, but most illiterate people cannot read the Bible, Koran, or Marx. They are led based on what they are told.

Thus, I use "Talibanism" as a common epithet for any kind of fanatical ignorance that I see, including the atheist variety of Daniel Dennett who freely admits that he does not respect Philosophy much. I think that it is an apt term.

If you prefer a different one, we can split the difference. Again, I am not focused so much on whether what I call "Talibanism" is a logical outgrowth of a literal interpretation of the Koran or not, since I suspect that most who are Talibanists do not take the time to understand much in its historical context beyond what they are told to believe. And, it is the act of believing what one is told to believe that offends me most.

Now, my most important point is why it is that you blame Obama for something that Bush also did, namely failing to stand up for religious minorities in the Middle East? Strangely, the Azidi got some kind of representation in Iraq's Parliament, but what about other religious minorities?

N. Friedman - 8/10/2010


Berman is definitely not someone remotely like Jonah Goldberg. While Goldberg wrote an interesting book (about which we discussed), he is by and large a polemicist, not a serious scholar. The difference between the two writers is not one of degree but of kind.

Berman, by contrast, is a serious thinker and essayist, respectful of the historical record. He has written a very important book about how people think about the Islamist regions and Islamists more generally.

The book uses Tariq Ramadan, contrasting his treatment in the West with that of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ramadan is the grandson of father of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna, although Ramadan is an interesting thinker in his own right. Ali is a refugee from Somalia who rejected her religion and became an atheist - akin to Ibn Warraq. Ali has had to run for her life, due to threats from Islamists. The book uses Ramadan and, to a lesser extent, Ali as a means to discuss what Berman sees as intellectual cowardice among the intellectual classes.

I think you would really enjoy the book and, I might add, learn something from it.

Maarja Krusten - 8/10/2010

Thanks, N. Yeah, I remember our convo about Jonah Goldberg and about what is history and what is not when he put his piece up here. I think he and the Cornerites have done terrible damage to the GOP, sad for me to see even tho I'm now long an Independent rather than the Republican I once was. I just can't relate to dudes like that. Tho in many ways I feel awfully sorry for them. As you know, I much prefer to read Brooks, Gerson, Wehner and Frum than the Cornerites, Krauthammer and such like. Much braver and thoughtful in my book. But hey, tastes vary, people have different definitions of courage, and anyway, it's a free country.

I'll keep the Berman book in mind tho I have a pretty full plate in terms of other reading at the mo. I actually don't disdain works by non-historians, I've read some good ones. I am put off by angry zealotry by the right or the left, however. Heard too much about the hardships of WWII from The Parents back in the day. Had to fight the Nixon dudes hard too. I (we) won ultimately but sheesh, what battles. I've stood up for and helpeed a lot of good folks within fed land, too, over the yers. That's where my primary interests lie, helping my buds. There's unit cohesion and bonding and a sense of mission there that just is hard to explain. Well, I've rambled on long enough. I'm done here, friend.


N. Friedman - 8/10/2010


Well, I would not confuse what occurs as posted responses to HNN articles with the word "history." Nor would I call most of the HNN articles by the name "history." All of us are, I think, throwing around opinions which, depending on the person involved and his or her temperament and/or ability, may or may not be valuable. But, history it surely is not.

I was stating my view based on what I see of the Obama administration. Clearly, I am not the only person who is perplexed. And, one does not have to be a Republican to find the President's approach perplexing.

If I might be so bold to recommend a really excellent book to you, I would highly recommend reading The Flight of the Intellectuals, by Paul Berman. He is not an historian although the book does include some review of historical information uncovered by Professor Eckstein's friend and colleague, Professor Jeffrey Herf (University of Maryland) and presented in Herf's important book, Nazi Propaganda For The Arab World, among other information. The book is an incredibly engaging essay that does touch on today's world. It is, I think, an important book well worth your time.

Timothy Furnish - 8/10/2010

Talibanism is NOT "common to many belief systems." "Talibanism" is legitimate within Islam because it is simply a woodenly literalist exegesis of what the Qur'an says. Have you ever actually READ the Qur'an?

Maarja Krusten - 8/10/2010

I am SUCH a dweeb sometimes!

Maarja Krusten - 8/10/2010

Do it for the Jets! I <3 that! Except, ooo, my parents are immigrants to America so maybe I am a Shark instead, huh? Hy, ya know, my Mom actually sewed a lilack dress with a flared hemline for me for my high school graduation in 1969. (Did I tell you I was the Nixon campaign chair in my school? I didn't do so well at persuasion there, either, LOL. George Wallace won the vote among students in my school in Prince Georges county, Maryland in 1968. Nixon came in second!

Or maybe like Maria I'll just end up caught in the crossfire. N., I appreciate your very kind effort as an old friend to get me to join the convo. I can't and won't. I guage how far I can go according to my sense of the situation. You may recall that I spoke obliquely here to fend off some Bush bashers during his administration, also. When they did that poll about worst president while Bush still was in office, I urged scholars not to do such things, and reminded them that they lacked access to internal deliberative records. I'm consistent.

That said, then as now, I am limited in what I can say about current events. Just can't do it. And for better or worse, I am more leery of activists who lean right more so than anyone else, simply because of the incredible battles we had with Nixon's lawyers and advocates back in the day. That taught me that there are people for whom the end justifies the means and that they will and can hit you with very heavy artillery. That some of us federal historian-archivists were harmed while Nixon was still alive was just part of doing business in Washington. In Washington, people can get squashed like bugs when they get in the way of determined parties. Collateral damage.

For better or worse, I trail some baggage. Nobody was willing to protect us at NARA during the Reagan and Bush I administrations. The Justice Department certainly didn't, it tried to force us to accept Nixon's requests when deletions to the White House tapes without discretion. (The law itself allowed for archivist's discretion.) A court overtuned the directive in Pulic Citizen v. Burke. Well, de jure if not de facto. After I testified in Kutler v. Wilson in 1992, I actually wrote to DOJ to protest to the Attorney General the lack of protection of me and my former boss by the federal lawyer who sat beside me in a case where Nixon was the Intervenor. I had only my own wits to defend me. Public Citizen said I was "a killer witness" but no fed should be left alone without true representation in such a situation, even if it is legal (NARA was the corporate defendant, with the U.S. Archivist the named defendant.)

NARA wasn't able to release the 200 hours of abuse of power tapes that we discovered and which were unknown to the Special Prosecutor until after Nixon died in 1994--despite the "full truth" provision in the law. Washington's a tough town. I've made it through 37 years of continuous federal service and I like where I am now. I am, as they say, "in a good place." I just don't want to engage on this particular issue at this site. I'm not saying Mr. Furnish would choose to harm me -- I think he sees me as a nobody so why would he -- but this topic is of such a nature that others can make it toxic. I'm not interested in going there. You'll notice I've been careful to focus on LBJ and Nixon and leave issues to be thought about by inference. Maybe under another article by a different author.

"When you're Jet you're a Jet all the way, from your first cigarette to your last dying day!"

N. Friedman - 8/10/2010


I appreciate your understanding of government. As for Mr. Furnish, I read his first book, Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden, which was a good piece of scholarship. It was well organized, filled with interesting information and respectful of his topic.

Writing arguments, of course, is something different from writing history. Tim's arguments are normally interesting. I thought his argument in this blog was reasonable but, given that it was an argument, not an historical analysis, opinionated - but not more so than most such articles. Again, I reiterate that his point was that he is perplexed by the Obama administration.

In that you do, in fact, have substantial expertise on how government functions, having spent years studying the inner workings of the Nixon administration, it might help Mr. Furnish - it might help me as well - understand how one should understand the Obama administration's approach to the Islamic regions.

It seems, as one who watches the administration's impact (and does not know how presidents do things), that the administration is actively harming US interests and making a war more likely - i.e. a war with Iran. I know that such is not only my opinion but the opinion of Professor Eckstein. So, I do not think I am all that off base here.

But, of course, what things look like from the outside may be disconnected to what they look like on the inside. And, of course, there may be more going on than meets the eye. But, from all that I can discern, I have never seen the likes - and I say this as a lifelong Democrat.

So, as a friend, I would ask that you ignore the issues between Mr. Furnish and you and engage, so that I might better understand things.

Do it for the Jets!!! [SMILE]

N. Friedman - 8/10/2010


I appreciate your understanding of government. As for Mr. Furnish, I read his first book, Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden, which was a good piece of scholarship. It was well organized, filled with interesting information and respectful of his topic.

Writing arguments, of course, is something different from writing history. Tim's arguments are normally interesting. I thought his argument in this blog was reasonable but, given that it was an argument, not an historical analysis, opinionated - but not more so than most such articles. Again, I reiterate that his point was that he is perplexed by the Obama administration.

In that you do, in fact, have substantial expertise on how government functions, having spent years studying the inner workings of the Nixon administration, it might help Mr. Furnish - it might help me as well - understand how one should understand the Obama administration's approach to the Islamic regions.

It seems, as one who watches the administration's impact (and does not know how presidents do things), that the administration is actively harming US interests and making a war more likely - i.e. a war with Iran. I know that such is not only my opinion but the opinion of Professor Eckstein. So, I do not think I am all that off base here.

But, of course, what things look like from the outside may be disconnected to what they look like on the inside. And, of course, there may be more going on than meets the eye. But, from all that I can discern, I have never seen the likes - and I say this as a lifelong Democrat.

So, as a friend, I would ask that you ignore the issues between Mr. Furnish and you and engage, so that I might better understand things.

Do it for the Jets!!!

Maarja Krusten - 8/10/2010

Least anyone accuse *me* of being LOL I'll call that the simple typo that it was. At least I'm off of that daggone smartphone (doesn't guarantee a smart user, LOL), finally.

Maarja Krusten - 8/10/2010

Sir, it's too late. First impressions matter and I am not drawn to read any more of your work. Let's just say we agree to disagree on some things (although some of our objectives and love for America and cherishing of Christianity probably are pretty darn close).

Less formally: Dude. I woulda read the other stuff written by the guy who wished me a good evening Sunday and said he's enjoyed jousting with me. I thought Sunday nite, "cool. We made a breakthrough despite my uncharacteristically snarky first comment here. All right [fist pump]." I like stuff like that. It works for me. But that guy who was Mr. Furnish then didn't show up here here today. The guy who's here today as Mr. Furn ish doesn't draw me in. Sometimes people are inherently incompatible. It happens, not your fault or mine. One notes those things and moves on to hang with other buds.

As Ed Morrow (who once was my late Dad's boss in federal service -- my Dad was a Radio Scriptwriter for the Estonian Service of the Voice of America during the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations) used to say, "good night and good luck."

Nat Bates - 8/10/2010

I made a cogent point. Religious Dominionism is common to many religions. Christianity ruled in medieval Europe in a Taliban-like way. Islam was relatively liberal in those days. Buddhism ruled theocratically in Tibet, until the Atheistic form of Dominionism known as Communism took over. Hinduism developed a racial caste system to rival the Old Dominion. Communism is a form of Hegelian Dominionism that posits End Times thinking without religion, but Apocalypticism none-the-less.

So, again, Talibanism is common to many belief systems. We also have Richard Dawkinsian Talibanism that would prevent parents from teaching any kind of religious values to their children. It is based on reductionism. So, again, where is the "insanely-stupid" idea here?

I think what you might have been responding to is the perception of political correctness where we cannot criticise Islamic cultures or there will be riots and murders in the street. Thus, we have to criticise some abstraction instead of how backwards a culture might be. Indeed, if these people were white males, the "left" would be calling for separation of religion and state in all of those societies, as well as equal rights for gays, women, minorities, and perhas even, possibly, Jews and Christians. So, if that is what you were responding to, then fair enough.

I am a Political Correctness free person. If you have an ideology or position, I will offend it. I gaurantee it or your money back. Offer void if you are dumb enough to pay me...

Timothy Furnish - 8/10/2010

Ms. Krusten,
I have written 31 articles for HNN in the last 7 years. Here's the link:
If that doesn't work, go the HNN homepage, to "Archives," then search by my last name.
So before you label me an unscholarly "blowhard," try reading some of them. A man should not be judged by one blog alone, but by every word that comes out of his mouth.

Maarja Krusten - 8/10/2010

Hi, N., thanks for the reply. Please overlook typos because I'm responding on my smartphone and its hard to type at length. I'd rather not engage on this because to do so would take my writing an essay on how government actually works. There's no room or way to do it. Nor do I sense an interest by the author in engaging with people who know things he doesn't know. (Unlike the rest of us, who did read and consider what he wrote). He clearly understands some aspects of Islam and could have done a nice job in educating readers about some of its history, goals, dangers, and customs. Instead, he wrote what he wrote.

You may remember our previous convos about West Side Story. The postings here between Mr. Furnish and me are like the Jets and the Sharks -- two sets of people from widely different cultures who never will understand each other. Eh, it happens. I come from a collegial, team oriented, partnering (not top down), knowledge based federal background. We're as strong as the people around us so we tend to think in terms of how we each can backfill behind the other. That's why I tend to approach things in terms of partners who can help build sustainability. I was taught to use history to ascertain what happened and why and to look at situations and to figure out why they occurred as they did. This requires setting aside set templates and biases and simply going where the facts take you. That's why we were able to open the Nixon abuse of power segments ultimately, using a team of people trained in history who ranged from Socialist to Democrat to Republican (as I then was) to Libertarian. As the law required, we all set aside our personal prejudices and preconceived notions and focused on known facts.

Because of my parents' experience with totalitarian rule under Communism and my own experiences in seeing federal colleagues at NARA suffer retribution from Republicans in their efforts to open "abuse of governmental power" information during the Reagan and Bush years, I prefer venues where people really can discuss difficult issues but also disagree in a genial fashion. Such does not seem possible here. It's the first time I've encountered Mr. Furnish, whose blog I've never read until now. No matter how I word things, he and I are bound to tangle. Our personalities, values, goals, objectives, and methodologies simply are too different. If I write like a scholar, he scolds me for verbosity. If I hit back against his snark, he accuses me of using ad hominems. I think he means well – he loves America as much as you and I do, I think. But his tactics and salesmanship are on a par with a cable or radio blowhard preaching in an echo chamber, not an advocate seeking to achieve an outcome. I misunderstood that, I initially thought he was trying to achieve an outcome but he mentioned that he is expressing his views. At this point, I think all I can do is pray that God give him grace and help him find good, honorable people to help him in his endeavors. No hard feelings, but I'm out of options here. West Side Story.

No biggie, 'tis but a history blog.

Be well, N, my friend.

Timothy Furnish - 8/10/2010

Oh, now you're quibbling. The organization that sent them there was motivated by Christianity, was it not? And the spokesperson I heard from the organization said that the ones killed carried their own personal Bibles, but not ones to give out. Sound like Christians to me. Or maybe they were just really clever pagans.
I seriously doubt that the Wiccan presence in DWB and Red CROSS is substantial.
Do you really want to try to compare the charitable work done on this planet by Christian organizations with that done by Wiccans or atheists?
When I'm not so busy I can go find the statistics to prove what a weak argument that is. But I'm sure you're intelligent enough to do that.

Timothy Furnish - 8/10/2010

Excellent point(s). Yes, the criticism should be stronger.
But somehow I doubt we'll not lack opportunities to do so between now and Jan. 20, 2013.

John Doeman - 8/10/2010

You assumed that the medical workers were Christians. They were working for a Christian charity, but not all of them were religious. See

As for the statement that only Christians "go halfway around the world to help other people", that's a real surprise to me. I guess that means that everyone in Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross are Christian?

Timothy Furnish - 8/10/2010

Sorry, trying to comment and supervise my boys' homework. I meant to say "It's not a primary teaching of their religion (or lack thereof)."

Timothy Furnish - 8/10/2010

I think I have it figured out; they were really Mossad or IDF guys posing as Christian missionaries.
That should work for Omar.

Timothy Furnish - 8/10/2010

I don't get those complaints of "feeling unsafe"and accusations of "anger" and "bullying" that she keeps bringing up. Reminds me of my former college students who, when their cherished ideas, were challenged, responded as if they were being personally attacked.

Timothy Furnish - 8/10/2010

The Taliban said they killed them for "preaching Chrstianity" (which itself was a lie, but Muslims are allowed to lie about such things--it's called taqiyyah).
Wiccans or atheists don't go halfway around the world to help other people, as Christians do. It's not a prima So your question is nonsensical. I believe "red herring" is the better descriptor.
As for Jews: they would have been killed simply for being Jews.

Timothy Furnish - 8/10/2010

Mr. Doeman,
Please cite one example from today's headlines of of Jews or Christians killing a Muslim, or anyone of another religion, for preaching that religion.
When you can, and then multiply it by a factor of, oh, say 100, then we'll talk moral equivalency.

John Doeman - 8/10/2010

Did the Taliban kill the medical workers because they were Christian or because they were foreigners who undermined their militant Islamic aspirations for political power?

If the medical workers had been Jewish, Wiccan or atheists who wanted to support nation-building a more moderate regime, you honestly think the Taliban would have spared them?

John Doeman - 8/10/2010

You wrote as a condemnation of Islam that: "the fact is that the Qur’an literally teaches that Allah approves killing non-Muslims for various offenses".

If you're going to condemn Islam for these sort of statements in the Qur'an, are you prepared to do the same for Judaism and Christianity for the following 8 statements from their scripture?

Exodus 31:15 - Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. (NIV)

Deuteronomy 22:13-21 - If a man takes a wife and, after lying with her… saying “…I did not find proof of her virginity” …If, however, the charge is true… the men of her town shall stone her to death. (NIV)

Deuteronomy 17:2-5 - If a man… has worshiped other gods …stone that person to death. (NIV)

Leviticus 24:16 - …anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death (NIV)

Leviticus 20:9 - If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death (NIV)

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 - …a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother…. Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. (NIV)

Leviticus 20:10 - If a man commits adultery… both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death. (NIV)

Leviticus 20:13 - If a man lies with a man….They must be put to death. (NIV)

Bill Heuisler - 8/10/2010

Since you cannot decide whether those executed civilian doctors and nurses were killed for Christianity or caring for sick Afgani children, let's assume they were doing both. But you said they were killed.., "for being foreign armies, and some of you for being intelligence operatives."

Armies and intelligence? Islam can't apparently recognize either, since Islam has not had a decent army since Salah Ad-din and the stark epitome of muslim intelligence is a yearly crushing of pilgrims on the Jamarat bridge in Mecca. Those doctors and nurses must have seemed very threatening.

There are a very few muslims who condemn barbarities like stoning women and homosexuals; fewer still condemn atrocoties like 9/11; hardly any condemn the "honor killings" of wives and girl children by males under Sharia Law.

How can an American like you defend the killing of unarmed men and women, no matter what they are supposed to be? Civilized people believe there should be "Due Process" under Law. How would you like to be dragged out of your house and shot because you were suspected of being a spy?

Don't worry. That won't happen in the United States. People like you, Omar, depend on our enlightenment while hating our success.
Bill Heuisler

N. Friedman - 8/10/2010


I stand corrected about all documents. It is only the central document that removes all reference to religious motivation.

In any event, I think that the Obama administration is engaged in a fool's errand and that there is likely to be - and, thus far, there has been - no benefit to reaching out to people with their ears closed to anything we say.

I wish you would engage my comments, since they are not angry - and never angry at you. I merely disagree with your points.

Elliott Aron Green - 8/10/2010

Omar, I don't think that you understood Tim Furnish and Bill Heussler's criticism of the murder of the medical missionaries by the Taliban. It is not simply an issue of whether they were spies or missionaries. The issue is whether the Taliban had the right to kill them in cold blood, especially in view of the fact that they did so much good, medically, for the Afghan population. Now suppose they were spies, why not trade them as prisoners in a prisoner exchange with the Americans? Or why not make them captives while supervising their medical treatment of civilians in the Taliban camp?

So the issue is not merely the truth of the accusation but the form of punishment. Maybe it would help the world if militant Muslims showed more respect for the lives of fellow humans, both Muslims and non-Muslims. As things stand now, the militant jihadis respect neither the lives of the mu'iminin [believers] nor of the kufar [disbelievers, infidels]. Can you address that issue?

Elliott Aron Green - 8/10/2010

`Umar, anta la habibna,

You write about
Afghani civilian, non combatant, lives wasted by the USA led forces of Afghanis being present in the inevitable congregation that accompanies such every day normal activities as attending a wedding or partaking in a funeral procession or being present at a weekly market

Now can't you guys get your story straight, `Umar? I thought it was us Israelis and only Israelis that went around killing innocent civilians for no good reason. Now, you are accusing another country of doing that. Are we Jews guilty or not guilty? Maybe we have a few Israeli commandos hiding in the Hindu Kush region telling Coalition air craft where to find Muslim civilians to target. Of course, we agree that Muslims would never slaughter fellow Muslims. All that apparent Muslim against Muslim slaughter in Iraq and Pakistan must be really carried out by Americans or Israelis or maybe Hindu Indians. Who blew up all those Shiite and Ahmadi mosques in Pakistan? If it wasn't Americans or Jews or Hindus, then maybe it was Martians. You can't trust them Martians. They are a clever and deceitful herd, ya `Umar.

Timothy Furnish - 8/10/2010

Mr. Bates,
You were making SOME sense, until that insanely-stupid line about "Shariah...Muslim or Christian."

Nat Bates - 8/10/2010

Actually, it was President Bush who first suggested that we are all the same, and that most Muslims were moderate and peace-loving. He also did not stand up for Christians in Iraq, and allowed the Islamicists to take over when S*ddam, for all his evil, was far more tolerant. It was President Bush who first allowed the terrorists to win by "democratic election."

How is it that the Neo-cons, who have no love for democracy here in the US (read their own writings), suddenly have a great love for it when democracy means that the Muslim Brotherhood might take over in Egypt? If Neo-cons were so pro-Israel, as both their friends and detractors believe, they would have kicked Karl Rove and Grover Norquist right out of the White House. Both of them were pro-Islamicist, and specifically favored a theocratic alliance between Muslims and Christians that would probably be anti-Israel. They also agreed with the terrorists that democracy was best replaced by some other system, and had remarkably similar views on how that should happen.

Oil runs things, folks, and Obama is simply carrying on the legacy of previous Presidents in some form of either appeasing Islamic terrorism or trying to use it like the CIA so often has. If the terrorists actually believe that they are getting 72 virgins, then they are brainwashed and mind controlled. Such people are easily used for all matter of evil ends.

In any case, I agree with the Author that I would favor special teams to...let us say, address this issue. I have no problem with that idea. Just remember, however, that there is substantively little difference between what Obama has done and what previous Presidents would do. If the Republicans come back, we will have the oil companies solidly in the saddle and believe-you-me the Christians in the Middle East will take second fiddle to Saudi Arabian influence and their corporate allies.

Personally, I agree with the Author that "specially trained forceful mediation" teams would be best used there, or against religious terrorists of any stripe (including Christian Identity/White Supremacists here and abroad). The best part of such a method is that it does not rely on rigged trials based on torture that then set legal precedents for Americans or anyone else. Special Operations are off the radar screen, so to speak. For squishy-heads who oppose such things (I am not listening to Chomsky on-line, so that thought comes to mind), I would say that they ought to consider that they would be the first to go if Shariah ever came here, either in its Muslim or its Christian forms.

Don't get sucked in to election year nonsense where everyone says how much they love America and Christianity. Believe me that the politicians serve the businessmen, and there is a revolving door. The Democrats at least want something for the people.

Maarja Krusten - 8/10/2010

Hi, N. Thanks for the response. What you describe does not match up with what I believe is going on. Reality is more complex. I'm a fed but am no Wikileaker -- I never would condone leaking. I can discuss archival documents but not current activities. So I've reached a point where I can't discuss this subject further. I'll leave the convo to outsiders, whereever it takes you. My phone is about out of juice, too.

Take care, old HNN friend, and thanks for a thoughtful response. It is worthy of response but I'll have to leave that to designated officials. There is way too much anger here for me to discuss even history and feel safe.

N. Friedman - 8/10/2010


I am not sure that privileging would be a word I would choose here.

The President has, from early in his presidency, taken the view, in public at least, that (for lack of a better word) appeasing Muslim hostility with soothing rhetoric and, at times, with actions of rather minimal, if any, significance will somehow benefit the US vis a vis the Arab regions.

This was evident in his speech in Cairo (and even before that in Turkey) which adopted the Muslim view of its relationship with the non-Muslim world. Hence, the speech even took the Muslim extremist's interpretation of the veiling of women - it being a matter of little concern to most Americans.

There has also been the decision to interpret events with no reference at all to religious motivation. As I understand it, such ban is not only in presenting the administration's position to the world (which includes the Muslim regions) or when even speaking before Congress but, amazingly, also in private communications and documents.

In other words, there seems to be an a priori internal approach that, whatever those who kill people (while documenting their devotion to a religious cause) claim, we know that what they claim to be so is not so. To me, that is beyond stupid and not only because I think that religion is an important factor involved here. It suggests decision makers in the administration who are narrow ideologues to the extent of being dangerous.

And, of course, the public face of all of this leaves much of the public cold. To one segment of the public, on the far left, which refuses to imagine that religion motivates anything other than with respect to rites of passage (e.g. wedding and funerals), the ban seems appropriate. To most everyone else, it sounds like the administration is either disconnected from reality or lying for no imaginable benefit.

And, I might add: in the Muslim regions, the movements which are being seriously harmed by the current approach are the secular, plural movements such as the liberals. With the administration taking the view that the Islamists are OK and Arab governments unworthy of any criticism, such groups no longer seem to have an ally in the US government.

I do not remotely understand the supposed benefit of the policy and I surely cannot imagine the benefit of the administration deciding a priori what is an appropriate interpretation of events. That seems bizarre and dangerous.

Maarja Krusten - 8/10/2010

Why did you establish a blog here if you argue like the Corner and Kos dudes rather than like a scholar or subject matter expert? I pointed to failing tactics by LBJ and Nixon and you grab them even tighter. Don't you want "your side" to win? You mystify me with your poor salesmanship. What is your objective here, just to vent? Dude, you are doing harm to your cause, big time. It is too big a cause to get so wrapped up in whatever drives your anger at me. Your cause will have to wait for other champions I suppose.

smartphone battery nearly out so I'll say buh-bye

Timothy Furnish - 8/10/2010

Ah, projection--and ad hominems. It was nice trying to talk reason to you.

Maarja Krusten - 8/10/2010

I didn't ask you, I asked Mr. Craigen. Do you seriously believe the Obama-Bush policies are more geared towards helping Muslim than Christians? That is so propesterous, neither I or any serious historian can help you. You seem to prefer caustic hyperbole and the easy satsfaction of poliical bluster to scholaly analysis. How can I even respond when my high school days are so far behind me? Even as school kid I was a nose ina book nerd, not a mean girl bully. I lack the aptitude for taunts and fights. Play on with your closed clique if that's how you want to roll. . . Others in both parties will actuallt deal with the problems.

Timothy Furnish - 8/10/2010

Ms. Krusten,
Let me make this easier for you, since you just can't seem to understand my piece: I'm not trying to persuade anyone--I'm expressing my own exasperated analysis; furthermore, said analysis is from primarily a Christian, not an American nationalist or political, perspective.
And I don't accept your post-modern, jejune view that strong language in written form equals "caustic bullying" or trying to get folks to "bow and submit." Frankly, that's just silly.
And as Dr. Craigen pointed out, you have still not, in any of your verbose posts, ever dealt with the crux of what I wrote: that this administration is more focused on helping Muslims than it is on doing anything about attacks on adherents of the majority faith of the U.S.

Maarja Krusten - 8/10/2010

Polls show the American people turning against the war in Afghanistan. With LBJ and Nixon in mind (tough guy rhetoric about wimps ultimately doing nothing to prevent inctreasing numbers of voters from deciding "gotta get out"), how would you sell the need now to spend U.S. lives and treasure? The portion of Obama's base that leans left is dissatisfied because his foreign policy differs little fom that of Bush. An isolationist "tend your own garden" segnent in the libertarian wing of the GOP is uncreasingly vocal. How would you encourage people to stick with the Bush-Obama policy goals in the face of this. As someone who instinctively digs in my heels in the face of taunts, I don't think exaggeration and name calling are the answer. Americans aren't inclined to bow and submit in the face of such tactics. So you have to be a persuasive salesman, not a caustic bully.

pls excuse typos posting by smartphone while on Metro

Maarja Krusten - 8/10/2010

N., would you care to elaborate on the issue of “privileging” outreach to Muslims over Christianity? Your assertion interests me because it seems to point to something U.S. politicians often use, yet I don’t think that is what you’re doing. Politicians often use a strange combination of touting a belief in American exceptionalism while also playing the victim card. But one can’t simultaneously chant “We’re Number One! We’re Number One!” while crying, “boo-hoo-hoo, poor little victimized us.” The two cancel each other out. I’ve never been able to reconcile the two so I tend to dismiss it when I see it in political rhetoric. That’s in part because the most reliable, confident people I know in my personal life aren’t whiners who complain constantly that others are privileged, especially when they stand in positions of superiority while doing so. The whole grievance thing in politics fascinates me, because it goes against the way most of us act in real life. I think most people are drawn not to whiners but to well-balanced people with good coping skills in their family life and their friendship circles. That politicians turn this on its head sometimes and try to win support by thundering about grievances always seems a bit comical, and at least to me, is counterproductive. You’re too smart a guy to mean privileging in that way so I’m curious as to what you do mean.

Maarja Krusten - 8/10/2010

Hi, N., nice to hear from you again. I always enjoy and take seriously your thoughtful comments here on HNN. I had the time this morning to respond to Mr. Craigren, who spoke up to defend Mr. Furnish's article. Rather than repeat that here, I'll just point you to

Be well, dude. You're a good guy.

Maarja Krusten - 8/10/2010

Mr. Craigan, I’ve been studying the U.S. presidency for over 30 years. This includes looking at issues such as the Vietnam war and how it was handled domestically. I spent 14 years as an employee of the U.S. National Archives. It was my job to listen to the secret Nixon tapes and to decide what you could hear and what required restriction.

During my study I have concluded that the presidency includes several facets, some of which work against each other. One, the political, often is reductionist and juvenile. It often depends on hyperbole and demagoguery which shields, sometimes deliberately, the complexities of the issues under discussion. Both parties fall prey to that. Mr. Furnish does not take that into account in his piece, which takes the easy way out by preaching to an existing choir and pushes away by its rhetoric people who might need to consider some of his points. The way he depicts Washington comes across as just as much of a cheap shot as did some of the criticism from the left of President Bush. In my view, this approach, while satisfying to partisans, is unhelpful, unrealistic and damaging to the nation as a whole. It is, however, very easy to slip into because it is so fleetingly satisfying.

Look at the Vietnam war (which as a young student I supported), which was presented by most U.S. political figures (Lyndon Johnson, Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon) as the defining battle between democratic forces and communism. In private, some of them and their advisors may have known that their rhetoric reached past reality. Others (John Sherman Cooper, George Aiken) spoke out against the war early on. The war ended badly, for the U.S. and for the South Vietnamese. What the blustering politicians failed to understand was their stewardship obligations – to the men they sent to fight, to the families of the draftees,to the people whose taxes paid for the war. They had to explain the goals in such a way as to make the sacrifices worthwhile. They failed because they didn't approach well the endeavor domestically in terms of sustainability. When the people in a democratically run nation stop supporting a war, it has severe consequences, as LBJ and Nixon found out.

The other facet is the policy side of being president. That is not nearly as childish and filled with schoolyard taunts as the political. That's what makes the two sides of the presidency so frustrating for scholars to observe. Study administrations in depth and you see people who are trapped between the taunting, cliquish world of high school and the world of the working adult.

Leaders study options which, as Gen. Anthony Zinni once observed, force them to choose between bad choices. Sometimes there are no bright lines, as politicians like to depict them. LBJ agonized over Vietnam, musing in private that he couldn’t win the war with what he had, he couldn’t get out and he was trapped. He knew at some level that the U.S. shouldn’t be fighting that war, yet some 50,000 American soldiers died because of his choices.

That political rhetoric often is so demagoguic (sometimes to the point of being unmanly in its need to posture and bluster) is not necessarily the fault of the politicians but of the voters who yearn for it because their view of how Washington operates is childish. Instead of educating voters on how things work, too many people give in to weak impulses and jump into the schoolyard brawls. They forgo the opportunity to act as mature thought leaders.

America suffers, as a result. Just as a family suffers when parents denigrate and push away their teenage children instead of providing them a safe haven to discuss what troubles them. At its worst, the political depends on caricature. You see it with critics of both parties. In the eyes of their critics, Republicans are depicted as warlike or anxious (along the model portrayed by Stephen Ducat, author of The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity). Democrats are depicted as weak and accomodationist. None of those cartoons matches reality for anyone who has studied the presidency and lived in the Washington area as long as I have.

Mr. Furnish chose an approach which depends too much on exaggeration and hyperbole. That is unhelpful to America, where people vote into office the leaders they want and at least have an indirect say on whether the nation should be at war. No U.S. president, Republican or Democrat, would be launching massively retaliatory strikes after the recent tragic killing of the civilians in Afghanistan. It doesn’t work that way, for decision makers in either party. If you study Democratic and Republican administrations closely enough, you see that while the pre-electoral rhetoric suggests huge differences, once in office the presidents don't really act that differently. It's always been that way and remains so now.

One becomes accustomed to hyperbole on purely political, partisan sites such as the National Review’s The Corner. (Daily Kos is its equally unhelpful equivalent on the lefft.) It’s fine for those guys at The Corner or Daily Kos to sit there and blather, no one is asking them to do anything difficult. (Nor, I have to say, would I pick them to do anything in a difficult situation. I mean, who would?) The bloggers at those sites are shooting blanks, no matter how warlike and self congratulatory their rhetoric, because they aren't making decisions about anything. It's easy to taunt from the sidelines when you can turn and run away from the playing field if something falls apart. When you see as much partisan posturing as I do on political sites, one turns to history sites yearning to read something better. Something that actually can help America. Helping America is a much tougher assignment than throwing partisan punches.

omar ibrahim baker - 8/10/2010

Your concern about the fate of several alleged spies and/or preachers ( being two non mutually exclusive propositions)is noted and respected as an indication of a humane hopefully non discriminatory outlook on the intrinsic worth of human lives including, also hopefully, those lives that happen to belong to Moslems.

Did either of you, particularly the scholarly Dr Furnish, ever attempt a tally of Afghani civilian, non combatant, lives wasted by the USA led forces of Afghanis being present in the inevitable congregation that accompanies such every day normal activities as attending a wedding or partaking in a funeral procession or being present at a weekly market (souk) ???

Such congregations being often deemed suspicious by the USA led forces were often gallantly strafed , usually from a safe distance in the air, as per US official public declarations that often, but not always, follow the strafing; with never a tally being offered .

Had any of you, particularly the resourceful and meticulously observant of Moslem affairs Dr Furnish , ever made such a tally he would be rendering the general public, and my poor self, a valuable service by sharing it.

omar ibrahim baker - 8/9/2010

Dr Furnish
I recall reading NOT long ago a sentence penned by a certain Dr Timothy Furnish that ran as follows:
"AP reported yesterday that “ten members of [a] Christian medical team,” six of them American, “were gunned down in a gruesome slaughter that the Taliban said they carried out, alleging the volunteers
were spying "”
Is it by any chance that I am addressing here the same Dr Timothy Furnish that opines?
"... they were killed for "preaching Christianity."
Which one of the two Dr(s) Timothy Furnish has better access to the goings on in Afghanistan than AP ( AP:presumably standing for Associated Press)??
Please advise!

omar ibrahim baker - 8/9/2010

"We are attacked for being Christian, from Yemen to Hamburg to Fort Hood and people like you take umbrage when we speak the truth."

Bill that is where you are 100% WRONG!
You are attacked for being foreign armies, and some of you for being intelligence operatives, in lands that resent your very presence in both capacities.

As to the SPYING charge , that I can neither prove nor disprove nor accept nor reject out of hand , it was what those most closely associated with them that brought it about.
They certainly are in a much better position to appraise them than, presumably, you nor, decidedly, I .

However should you reconsider your statement that " some ( of those charged with spying ) had been doing so (treating eyes and ears) for many years before the war." you may want to retract it on further consideration since few SPIES , to be effective, are, usually, newcomers to a battlefield and fewer still actually declare themselves openly as spies !

Timothy Furnish - 8/9/2010

The Taliban who murdered these people said they were killed for "preaching Christianity." Unless you posit said Taliban were radical Marxists,or maybe MSBNC anchors, then it "don't take a GED" (as my first Drill Sergeant used to say) to figure out the killings were done in the name of Islam.
Omar, it's too bad that you checked your intellect, and moral faculties, at the mosque door. Dr.Little had been working in the country for three decades, helping Afghanis who had eye diseases and problems. You know what he did that, Omar? Because Jesus Christ was his example. And he did it for NON-CHRISTIANS--which got him killed, but I have no doubt where Dr. Little is now. His examples is being repeated all over the world. On the flip side, however, Muslims doing such charitable work in non-Muslim countires are as rare as hen's teeth. Why? Because Islam teaches that Muslims should care for other Muslims, not Christians or Jews or Hindus or Buddhists. The sooner the world wakes up to that, the better; unfortunately, since you are a member of the world's largest sect, you can't--or won't--do so.
Bravo, Mr. Heuisler. Welcome to the realist branch of Christianity.

Bill Heuisler - 8/9/2010

Spies? Apparently the accusation is sufficient for execution in Islamic countries. The dead were "spying" inside Muslim childrens' eyes, mouths and sick bodies - some had been doing so for many years before the war.

Defending these murders in the name of Islam simply proves the point for those of us who consider Islam an anti-woman, monomaniacal religion of war against so-called Infidels who just happen to be everyone else.

My mind has been changed about Islam over the years of atricities. There was a time when Americans like me fought along side Muslims - soldiers and civilians - in places like Korea and Kosovo, but our blood and support apparently did not outweigh religious fanaticism. We are attacked for being Christian, from Yemen to Hamburg to Fort Hood and people like you take umbrage when we speak the truth.

Defending those so evil as to execute child doctors is vile. Asking you to be a little ashamed is futile.
Bill Heuisler

Timothy Furnish - 8/9/2010

Thanks. More like "reprehensible," actually (BHO's policy).
And I didn't even wade into the unconstitutionality of this (and the previous, to be fair) administration building mosques and madrasas in the Islamic world--which further buttresses my case that Washington, DC, privileges Islam over the faith of the vast majority of its own people.

N. Friedman - 8/9/2010


It would be nice to know what the Obama administration thinks. That is not all that obvious here.

I would assume they are appalled.

However, the outreach to Islamic societies appears to be an overriding consideration.

On top of that, there is evidence that the ban on using words such as "jihad" and like are not just for external use. I recall reading that such is also banned internally.

Anyway, I think Timothy was not trying so much to analyze Obama's position as to find it puzzling, which it is in my view. And, I say that as a non-Christian.

Elliott Aron Green - 8/9/2010

TF & RC, aren't you both being too mild with Madame 3-o'clock-in-the-morning?? Hasn't the Obama administration "diplomacy" actually encouraged the aggression by Islamist tyrants? What about the Ankara speech and the Cairo speech, full of sycophantic poppycock about Islam's splendid history of contributing to science, etc?

So then Erdogan in Turkey sent thugs to offer succor to the Hamas Islamofascists by breaking Israel's legitimate blockade of Hamas in Gaza. Shortly after Israeli commandos had boarded the Mavi Marmara, Obama's friend and mentor, Lee Hamilton, head of the Woodrow Wilson Center, bestowed the Woodrow Wilson Public Service on Erdongan's foreign minister Davutoglu, reputed to be the architect of Turkey's shift towards an Islamic orientation. Was that award given despite the Turkish assault on Israel or as a reward for it??

Obama and Hilary also allowed the Syrian Assad regime to extend its domination in Lebanon using the Hizbullah. The recent Hizbullah provocation on Israel's northern border demonstrates continuing Hizbullah belligerence. And much of this can be ascribed to the Obama admin policy. Maybe criticism of Obama and Hilary ought to be stronger.

Elliott Aron Green - 8/9/2010

RC, some of my teachers considered me retarded because I often asked dumb questions in class, at least dumb to some of my teachers.

Nevertheless, I have another dumb question: Why was the war in Iraq a bad war for Mr Obama and his following and such as Code Pink, whereas the Afghanistan war was --and presumably still is-- a good war? Mr Obama did not obfuscate or conceal his attention to fight a war in Afghanistan, or rather to expand the war already going on there in Bush's time. Indeed, when he spoke at a victory monument in Berlin, he told the German youth: "The Afghan people needs your troops and our troops" [or some such assertion]. So Mr RC, why is the Afghan war a good war whereas the same people believed that the Iraq war was a bad war??

omar ibrahim baker - 8/9/2010

Dr Furnish unhesitatingly, seemingly in "good conscience" and with "scholarly rectitude", confirms that the thing was/is " Islam-motivated "!
Are we to understand from this bold assertion that except for Islam, the dominant religion in Afghanistan and the motive force behind Taliban patriotic jihad, suspected spies anywhere else in non Moslem lands would have been given a free hand and extensive latitude to go on practicing their , suspected as far as we but not the Taliban are concerned, spying mission ??

According to Dr Furnish: Would a suspected spy, during war time, in Xenobia where Ferelantism predominate, or anywhere else in this wide world, be allowed to go back home with only a reprimand and/or a frown EXCEPT in ISLAM dominated lands??

His insight into the issue of spies for the enemy during war time coming, as it will, from a veteran intelligence operative/analyst and an eminent scholar would be greatly appreciated.

omar ibrahim baker - 8/9/2010

" The Islam-motivated murders took place in Badakhshan, in Afghanistan’s northeast. " is how Dr Furnish perceives what happened and would like others to share!
Nothing unexpected here with a career seemingly consecrated to combat and vilify Islam.
Except that for a presumably serious scholar/ researcher and ex intelligence operative/analyst, Dr Furnish should have given some thought to the charge made against the victims by their executioners: that they were SPIES for their enemy.
( Dare we hope that Dr Furnish avows the use of Spies by the American led forces now combating in Afghanistan???)
He should know by now, I hope and dare to expect, that in the battle field that is Afghanistan now, SPYIES proliferate and are legitimate targets.
However here we are in one of those situations wherein neither he can disprove the charge of spying nor can I prove it which, theoretically at least for a presumed scholar, leaves him with only one possible avenue: to give the charge some serious thought then proceed to satisfy his professional duties and indulge in his favorite hobby: Islam bashing .
But that, of course, would be too unrealistic to expect

R. Craigen - 8/9/2010

More like an hors d'oeuvre, not a full brunch.

R. Craigen - 8/9/2010

Ms Krusten, I can't derive any of your criticisms from reading Dr. Furnish' article. It makes me wonder where you got them, or whether you care about the subject matter of his piece? Your initial comment does not make reference to any of its content -- nobody reading your comment would know that the article in question dealt with the murder of Christian medical missionaries and that it's primary thrust is a defense of the U.S. against charges of "crusaderism".

Dr. Furnish and I have had extensive private correspondence on a number of issues because we share many interests, though we don't always see eye to eye. I believe I know him quite well, though we have never met. I am, by the way, Canadian.

Let me tell you that I would be hard pressed to think of a more enthusiastic promoter of America than Tim. If there is anything obvious about him, he loves his country dearly. I cannot fathom how you can lump him in with those who "write about the U.S. as if they hate it", precisely the opposite of what he has written: a pro-American apologetic.

The only thing that comes close in his brief piece here is a criticism of the president's clearly naive approach to this type of issue, and of other elements that exacerbate, rather than solving the problem.

Dr. Furnish is too polite to be so blunt, but let me put it this way: America (like other western countries) is currently suffering from an illness, and it happens to be concentrated around (but certainly not limited to) the occupant of the White House. To offer a diagnosis of an illness is not the same thing as to hate the patient who is ill. On the contrary -- it is an act of love!

Until you disabuse yourself of this silly notion it's pretty hard to take anything else you say about Furnish or his piece here seriously.

R. Craigen - 8/9/2010

All worthy things to point out Mr. Wood, but I don't like the apparent tone of your final rhetorical question, so if I misunderstand your intention, please bear with my answer, which might sound a bit barbed:

Who has the moral high ground?

Certainly not the Taliban.

The western allies are guilty, yes, of misunderstanding, of misguided do-gooderism, of bending so far over backwards to give the benefit of the doubt to obviously malevolent people, of blindly refusing to look at the black heart of Islamism and the guarantee of injustice in a national constitution that enshrines Sharia as the center of legal jurisprudence, by lavishing goodwill too freely and where it does not belong.

If the western allies are guilty, they are guilty of criminal naivete. The Taliban are guilty of bloodthirsty, ideologically motivated, open-eyed, deliberate violation of the most precious values of civiliation, of the most vile and violent attacks on core human values, and against human life itself.

I cannot even conceive of comparing these two moral strata -- the suggestion that there is any possibility of doing so offends me to the core. That said, it's high time the western allies opened their eyes and started making smarter decisions before the same night we see hovering in Afghanistan falls here too. I agree with Mark Steyn, that it is not far from happening in our own back yards.

Timothy Furnish - 8/8/2010

The SecState did, today, at least comment on these murders; according to Reuters she "condemend the Taliban." That should do it. I'm sure any attacks on Christians will cease and desist, now--right?

Timothy Furnish - 8/8/2010


Maarja Krusten - 8/8/2010

My parents were forced to live under Nazism and Communism both during World War II. It's just me, we all have our "issues," but because of what happened to my family, I strongly resist arguments based on kicks in the teeth. Reason always works better for me, dude!

Have a good evening, I enjoyed our joust.

Timothy Furnish - 8/8/2010

I respond much better to "dude" than to "epistemic closure."
I take your point; but try to understand mine: sometimes folks need a kick in the teeth to wake them up.

Maarja Krusten - 8/8/2010

Dude, I'm a Christian, an American, and I've sometimes even voted Republican. I'm not unsympathetic to everything you're trying to accomplish but your tactics are terrible. You overlook what it takes to reach people in making arguments in a country with our traditions of freedom. I studied the polling data in 2008 very carefully and am convinced that it was ordinary voters who argued with their neighbors as you do that led the GOP ticket to defeat. You're not an ordinary Joe. You know stuff. Leverage it. Don't throw it away the way you did with this essay. If you want to have people listen to you, you have step back and consider why your piece sounds like a screed on a history site such as this one. Just as the anti-Reagan one did which I read here a few years ago. If the cause matters, learn to be more effective. If you want to lose, keep rolling on as you are. Hasn't anyone who sympathized with you ever offered similar advice? If you can't listen to me, listen to them. It's worth it.

Maarja Krusten - 8/8/2010

See my other comment, where I said that if you argued like this anywhere in 2008, you helped elect Obama. Tactics matter. Very much.

Maarja Krusten - 8/8/2010

Oh please. Are you an Obama operative by any chance? Is this sock puppetry aimed at making his critics look bad? Go back and re-read your piece. Compare it against ones written by bloggers such as the people at The Corner or The Daily Kos. Then compare it against what scholars write. Huge difference. Aim higher, there's plenty to criticize about every administration but you have to learn to make your case soberly and without relying on cartoonish images. I don't know where you were in 2008 but if you were writing this way and engaging with readers this way, you helped elect Obama. It's been fun, but I've got to go.

Timothy Furnish - 8/8/2010

My last comment: tactics is process, strategy is substance. My concern is primarily with the latter, unlike you.

Timothy Furnish - 8/8/2010

What in heaven's name are you talking about? Where did I advocate giving anyone orders, or anyone to submit?
And once people start pulling the "epistemic closure" card, I feel the need to stop talking to them. Hasta la vista.

Timothy Furnish - 8/8/2010

What in heaven's name are you talking about? Where did I advocate giving anyone orders, or anyone to submit?
And once people start pulling the "epistemic closure" card, I feel the need to stop talking to them. Hasta la vista.

Maarja Krusten - 8/8/2010

No, just marveling over the poor tactics.

Maarja Krusten - 8/8/2010

Wow, you really don't undersand America. Your tactics here are awful. You sound very authoritarian and intensely uncomfortable with pushback. I hope that's not due to epistemic closure. I know nothing ab out you. You just might be cranky right know. Here's the deal. We are a free people. We are independent, freedome loving, and many of us reject bullying. No orders for us, not thank you. Sorry, fellow, but most Americans just aren't submissive.

Timothy Furnish - 8/8/2010

Oh for god's sake--you're not really pulling the race card, are you? Amazing. I used a turn-of-phrase, nothing more.
No, I am not "scared" by something about this country--I am in fact disgusted by an administration that won't say or do anything about the global Muslim persecution of Christians.

Timothy Furnish - 8/8/2010

Oh for god's sake--you're not really pulling the race card, are you? Amazing. I used a turn-of-phrase, nothing more.
No, I am not "scared" by something about this country--I am in fact disgusted by an administration that won't say or do anything about the global Muslim persecution of Christians.

Maarja Krusten - 8/8/2010

A spade a spade as a comment criticizing the Obama administration?

BTW, I'm not a policy wonk although I study policy. I'm an historian. If you want straight talk, here's the deal. Instead of sounding like an expert (which, again, I think you may be), you sound as if something about the U.S. scares you just as it does some leftists. I'll just chalk it up as another one of those essays!

Timothy Furnish - 8/8/2010

I think a cartoonish view of this cartoonish, puerile, rabidly-partisan, Islam-apologist administration is just what the doctor (me, in this case) ordered.

Timothy Furnish - 8/8/2010

I addressed this in my previous comments. I know a policy wonk such as yourself thinks it crass and oh-so-plebian to actually call a spade a spade, sans circumlocuting and diplomatic nieties--but obviously I am not of the same opinion.

Maarja Krusten - 8/8/2010

That should be the dude who slammed Reagan, obviously. Peas in a pod.

Maarja Krusten - 8/8/2010

Dude, I think you don't get it. I'm not criticizing calling out liberals or conservatives. I'm neither, myself. I'm criticizing cartoonish views of Washington. If you want to roll the same way as the dude you slammed Reagan, I can't stop you. Still, I'm leery of Stephen Ducat bait.

Look at my FYI posting below. You'll see what I mean. I wouldn't have read this piece had Rick or David not put it on the HNN top page. Now that's its out there, you'll attract more readers, c'est la vie, right?

Maarja Krusten - 8/8/2010

Something to think about. What administrations say in public often is very different from what is being discussed in private. There is a lot more nuance and weighting of pros and cons in the latter than the former, which often is simple and reductionist itself. You would be surprised at the type of classified and unclassified information that is digested and considered in making decisions. You, as a member of the public, catch only glimpses of the deliberations and mostly know only the post-decisional. Not your fault if you've never studied the mountain of predecisional records that slowly are disclosed for scholars to study. Unless you study such matters, it's easy to fall into the trap of painting this administration, or any administration, in a cartoonish way.

Take LBJ and his agonizing over the Vietnam war. The convos he had with McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, et al. are nothing like what he said at pressers. Or to turn to my field of specialty, the Nixon White House tapes, which it once was my job to listen to in order to decide what you the public should hear and what should remain restricted. In 1972, President Nixon stood at a press conference and said Gen. John Lavelle had okayed unauthorized bombing of North Vietnam, that critics were right to decry Lavelle's actions and that he deserved to be demoted. In private, as we at the National Archives discovered in listening to secret tapes as federal employees during the 1980s, Nixon admitted in convos with the the National Security Advisor that he had authorized the bombing. Not only that, but Nixon was angry that Laird had removed Lavelle when the SecDef knew Nixon had authorized the bombing. Nixon even agonized over how to save Lavelle from being scapegoated but left him out to dry. Only when the information we knew as early as the 1980s from our work with government records was declassified in 2007 did the public learn Lavelle had been scapegoated unfairly and that Nixon knew this.

Your essay sounds as if your understanding of the administration stems from reading newspapers or blogs. Always a weakness for a scholar.

Timothy Furnish - 8/8/2010

And I will ask once again: what specifically in my article is inaccurate? Calling out liberals may annoy you, but it hardly qualifies as inaccurate.

Timothy Furnish - 8/8/2010

I'm not recommending policy, Ms. Krusten--I'm pointing out the blatant, and dangerous, hypocrisy of a chief executive who denies reality and refuses to stand up for his own co-religionists. And last time I checked, it was liberals, almost exclusively, who deny the violent teachings of Islam and simultaneously ignore the massive persecution of Christians taking place daily, mostly in the Islamic world. I'll leave to you policy wonks to dither over it; I'd prefer honestly exposing the problem.

Maarja Krusten - 8/8/2010

Your anti-liberal rants are as silly as leftists' anti-conservative rants. I'm an Independent who sometimes votes for one party and sometimes for the other. I've worked in Washington under both parties' administrations. I wish more people took the time to study how things work in DC rather just projecting how they think it works. You don't sound as if you've read many FRUS volumes or studied the records at any of our presidential libraries. It's all about "I hate 'em, boo hiss." Comes across as very cartoonish and ahistorical. Which is too bad, because you sound like a dude who knows some stuff in other areas. A common failing these days, however.

Timothy Furnish - 8/8/2010

Ms. Krusten,
Now that you're finished with the supercilious berating, any chance you might deign to tell us lesser intellects just what exactly I said that is so, presumably, wildly inaccurate?

Maarja Krusten - 8/8/2010

Wow, this article just moved to the top of the list of “is it real or is it a parody’ essays posted on HNN. The previous one was an essay in which the author excoriated Ronald Reagan for his Cold War policies and dismissed Washington during the 1980s as corrupt. I called him out on his tunnel vision, lack of knowledge and understanding of how the U.S. government works. I tried to explain Reagan’s situation, not because I had voted for Reagan (twice) but because I’ve spent 30 years studying the presidency. I doubt he read up on the presidency or on how Washington works after I posted my comment. HNN often comes across as a place where people dictate “how it is,” not where they seek to fill their knowledge gaps. Now this essay leaves me shaking my head even more than did the anti-Reagan, anti-U.S. government screed As the child of war refugees who came to America after fleeing a totalitarian regime, I cherish our freedoms and democratic processes. Perhaps that’s why I’ve devoted so much time to studying them. But even in middle age I’m still taken aback at how people can write about the U.S. as if they hate it. I always thought a far-left scholar would retain the prize here for jumping the shark on HNN but Mr. Furnish has moved to the top of the list. I guess certain reductionist shouters form a type which spans the ideological spectrum. Fascinating to observe although it leaves me cold whether the yelling comes from the right or the left.

John Playfair Wood - 8/8/2010

Initially, we went into Afghanistan to destroy al-Qaeda's base of operations and punish the Taliban for its support of al-Qaeda. However, very quickly grim images of the Taliban's religious intolerance and brutality were brought to bear, as a way of winning American hearts and minds to the validity of why we were in Afghanistan. All of which begs the question why are we there now?

The death of peaceful Christian medical workers carrying out charity, follows on the heels of the Kabul authorities pointing out that conversion to Christianity was a capital offense under Afghan law. A country in which girls as young as 12 are forced into arranged marriages, and after being raped by their husbands, are then raped by the police to whom they report the crime, none which graces the halls of justice in that country. A nation in which the immediate family of the president are the heart and soul of the illicit drug industry. A nation in which amnesty is given to "moderate" elements of the Taliban, in return for $250,000 to the human rights minister. Notwithstanding, that the very same men killed thousands of their countrymen in the years gone by. What do we hear from Washington of these things, a deafening silence. So today, who has the moral high road, us or the Taliban?

Shelley Dolf - 8/8/2010

I knew this happened before reading this posting, but only because it was mentioned during prayers this morning -- followed by an audible gasp of horror from the congregation. A thorough check of Drudge showed all sorts of interesting topics, ranging from the First Lady as a Modern Day Marie Antoinette to Milwaukee school teachers fighting for their health insurance to cover viagra. No mention of the Taliban executing humanitarians. The refusal to pay attention to these kinds of things -- both politically and by the media -- is willful. And it's frightening.