Newt Gingrich is way off-base in his criticism of President Obama’s response to the Koran-burning controversy in Afghanistan. The president sent an entirely proper letter of apology for the insensitive actions of American personnel who improperly disposed of Korans in a way that offends Muslim sensitivities. President Karzai responded properly too, criticizing the American actions but then accepting the American apology and trying to tamp down protests which have turned violent. For these actions, both men have gotten a double-barreled blast from the former House speaker and current presidential candidate. Politico quotes him as follows:
“It is an outrage that President Obama is the one apologizing to Afghan President Karzai on the same day two American troops were murdered and four others injured by an Afghan soldier,” the Republican candidate said in a statement. “It is Hamid Karzai who owes the American people an apology, not the other way around.”
The former House speaker continued his attack at a campaign rally in Spokane, Wash., charging that Obama had “surrendered twice” in one day, and demanded that the president request an apology from the Afghan government.
“Candidly, if Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, doesn’t feel like apologizing then we should say good bye and good luck, we don’t need to be here risking our lives and wasting our money on somebody who doesn’t care,” Gingrich said.
Gingrich’s statements are ignorant and irresponsible. Obama deserves plenty of criticism for his actions in Afghanistan, namely his premature drawdown of U.S. forces and cutting funding for the Afghan Security Forces (see, e.g., my Los Angeles Times op-ed today) but not for this. It is hardly a “surrender” to apologize for insensitive actions by American personnel. As for Karzai, I don’t know what he should be apologizing for in Gingrich’s opinion–it’s not as if Karzai applauded the attacks on American troops which resulted from the Koran-burning controversy. In this incident his actions seem to me fairly proper, and the accusation that Karzai doesn’t “care” about the future of his own country is ludicrous.
Overall, Karzai has been a disappointing leader, but U.S. troops are not in Afghanistan as a favor to him–they are there to protect our national interest in not having Afghanistan once again become a safe haven for terrorists. That’s something that Gingrich, for all his background in national security policy, doesn’t seem to get.