Billmon, without showing any disrespect to the four missionaries killed in Iraq, does point out that their presence in the country is yet another example of how Bush doesn't even begin to get it regarding the Middle East, and why his policies have failed thus far, and will continue to fail:
No one likes to see people murdered in cold blood. But the very presence of fundamentalist missionaries in Iraq (as part of the official relief effort, no less) is a cultural and political abomination, as well as a classic example of just how seriously the Bush admnistration takes the struggle against terrorism -- which is to say, not very seriously at all...
The problem, of course, is that the Islamic fundamentalists have more or less the same attitude: Not all religions are created equal. And unlike the Baptists, they tend to take their "war for souls" rhetoric literally.
Ordinarily, I wouldn't be so hostile towards the Christian side in this clash of civilizations. In general, I think the Southern Baptists should be free to preach their cult-like beliefs to whomever they like -- just as long as they stay away from my door. If they want to sneak into closed countries in search of a martyr's death (or, more likely, a martyr's explusion) more power to them. Personally, I think proselytizing is culturally and morally obnoxious. But so is religious repression.
But the missionary presence in Iraq -- as part of a conquering infidel army, no less -- unquestionably has been an enormous propaganda gift to the jihadists. It's hard to imagine a better way to reinforce the idea that the war on terrorism is actually a Christian crusade to subjugate Islam than to let a bunch of noisy right-wing religious bigots set up shop in the heart of an occupied Arab country -- holding badly needed relief aid in one hand and a Bible in the other. Like Jesus's general, my-God-is-bigger-than-your-God Jerry Boykin, these people are literally helping Al Qaeda promote its core message to the Islamic world.
How many more times will Bush have to fail before people realize that that's exactly what failures do: fail. Here's an excerpt from today's Paul Krugman New York Times Op-Ed:
Polls suggest that a reputation for being tough on terror is just about the only remaining political strength George Bush has. Yet this reputation is based on image, not reality. The truth is that Mr. Bush, while eager to invoke 9/11 on behalf of an unrelated war, has shown consistent reluctance to focus on the terrorists who actually attacked America, or their backers in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
This reluctance dates back to Mr. Bush's first months in office. Why, after all, has his inner circle tried so hard to prevent a serious investigation of what happened on 9/11? There has been much speculation about whether officials ignored specific intelligence warnings, but what we know for sure is that the administration disregarded urgent pleas by departing Clinton officials to focus on the threat from Al Qaeda.
After 9/11, terrorism could no longer be ignored, and the military conducted a successful campaign against Al Qaeda's Taliban hosts. But the failure to commit sufficient U.S. forces allowed Osama bin Laden to escape. After that, the administration appeared to lose interest in Al Qaeda; by the summer of 2002, bin Laden's name had disappeared from Mr. Bush's speeches. It was all Saddam, all the time...
It's now clear that by shifting his focus to Iraq, Mr. Bush did Al Qaeda a huge favor. The terrorists and their Taliban allies were given time to regroup; the resurgent Taliban once again control almost a third of Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda has regained the ability to carry out large-scale atrocities.
But Mr. Bush's lapses in the struggle against terrorism extend beyond his decision to give Al Qaeda a breather. His administration has also run interference for Saudi Arabia — the home of most of the 9/11 hijackers, and the main financier of Islamic extremism — and Pakistan, which created the Taliban and has actively engaged in nuclear proliferation.
Some of the administration's actions have been so strange that those who reported them were initially accused of being nutty conspiracy theorists. For example, what are we to make of the post-9/11 Saudi airlift? Just days after the attack, at a time when private air travel was banned, the administration gave special clearance to flights that gathered up Saudi nationals, including a number of members of the bin Laden family, who were in the U.S. at the time. These Saudis were then allowed to leave the country, after at best cursory interviews with the F.B.I.
And the administration is still covering up for Pakistan, whose government recently made the absurd claim that large-scale shipments of nuclear technology and material to rogue states — including North Korea, according to a new C.I.A. report — were the work of one man, who was promptly pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf. Mr. Bush has allowed this farce to go unquestioned.
So when the Bush campaign boasts of the president's record in fighting terrorism and accuses John Kerry of being weak on the issue, when Republican congressmen suggest that a vote for Mr. Kerry is a vote for Osama, remember this: the administration's actual record is one of indulgence toward regimes that are strongly implicated in terrorism, and of focusing on actual terrorist threats only when forced to by events.
I didn't want to lift so much of Krugman's piece, but it's that important. Bush's record--his public actions--are nothing to be proud of. They are, in fact, shameful. It is my sincere hope that the Kerry campaign forces the rest of the media to cover what is noted here. Because then Bush will be seen for what he is: an empty, miserable failure with no accomplishments.