Gates Describes Obama’s Approach Towards The Military As “Pitch Perfect” On Book Tour

When I cited the negative headline and mixed quotations in Bob Woodward’s account of the memoir recently written by Robert Gates, I suspected that the negative tone was largely due to Woodward’s strong anti-Obama bias. Now that Gates has started giving television interviews and has seen the media account, he is not being as critical of Obama as suggested by Woodward. This account is of his appearance on the Today Show:

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates clarified claims he supposedly made about President Obama’s commitment to the military surge in Afghanistan, saying Monday he “absolutely believed” the commander-in-chief supported the mission at the time.

Gates told TODAY’s Matt Lauer that the president fully supported the November 2009 surge but began to have reservations by the following spring.

“But as late as December 2010, he was still saying we were on the right track in Afghanistan,” he said. “So it was in our private conversations that he would express these reservations about whether it was working. But the decisions were right, and I believe that he believed it would work. “

Gates has been under fire for statements made in his new memoir, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” that suggested Obama lacked commitment to decisions he made about his strategy in Afghanistan.

In his memoir, Gates had also wrote “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions” when discussing Afghanistan. He described Obama’s approach towards the military as “pitch perfect” in an interview with NPR which also described Obama’s suspicion of the military’s desire to increase troops in Afghanistan:

INSKEEP: I sense, in listening to you talk, Mr. Secretary, and having read this book, that you’re trying very hard to give a nuanced portrait of the president and others around him. So I want to stipulate here you do speak highly of his decision-making ability. You actually compare his decision-making process to that of Abraham Lincoln. You say that he was very kind to you personally, that he made many very strong decisions. But at the same time, even on occasions when he agrees with you, when you recount stories in the book of inside meetings you seem to be bothered by his attitude, the way that he phrases things when it comes to the United States military. What was the problem that you saw between this president and the military?

GATES: Well, I think that — first of all, I think that the president’s approach towards the military, particularly right after he was elected and initially, was pitch perfect. He — and I will say also Mrs. Obama’s interactions with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with troops and so on, was exactly right, and there was never any question of their support, their affection, their respect for the troops.

I think that — I think that what got things a little bit — well, what started to get things off track was the military leadership pressing for a substantial increase in the number of troops literally days within — after the inauguration. And the feeling on the part of the vice president and others that the military was trying to box the president in and, as they would put it, jam him into making a big decision in terms of an increase of nearly — of some 20,000 troops —

INSKEEP: In Afghanistan.

GATES: — in Afghanistan within days, if not weeks, of becoming president. And I think that that attitude of suspicion of what the military was trying to do had its roots in that — in that discussion in February and March of 2009. And when it came to Afghanistan, and Iraq for that matter but mainly Afghanistan, fed a suspicion that the military was always trying to box the president in and force him into significant troop increases and so on.

And so there was this feeling — and because of various public comments made by senior military officials, by the chairman, by General Petraeus later, by General McChrystal and others, the feeling that they were trying publicly to put the president in a position where he had no alternative but to approve what they wanted. And as I write in the book, looking back I always tried at the time to persuade the president that this was no plot, that the military didn’t have a plan, if you will, to try and box him in. And, frankly, I don’t think I was ever able to persuade him that that was not the case, again primarily when it came to Afghanistan.

A president who both makes the right decisions and has some skepticism as to military recommendations for increasing troops is exactly what we want, and one reason why we have civilian leadership of the military.

Ron Fournier Defends Obama From Reports Of Criticism By Robert Gates

Yesterday I questioned whether all readers would see the memoirs of Robert Gates the same way as Bob Woodward, who has a long-standing anti-Obama bias.  Ron Fournier had the same impression as I had yesterday. While Woodward’s story reports negative comments from Gates about Barack Obama’s skepticism about the war in Afghanistan, Gates also wrote “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.” If Obama made the right decisions after questioning Gates and showing skepticism towards military recommendations, it sounds like he was doing the right thing. Fournier wrote:

In what Bob Woodward called a “harsh” judgment of President Obama, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates writes of the commander-in-chief adding troops to Afghanistan over the objections of his political team, second-guessing that decision, and never quite trusting his generals. “For him,” Gates writes in his memoir, “it’s all about getting out.”

To that I say, bravo. While excerpts of Gates’s books are being interpreted as embarrassing for Obama, I’m looking forward to reading the memoir in full—and expect to come away more impressed with the president than his Defense chief.

Consider first what the memoir says about Gates himself. Criticism of a sitting president from a former Cabinet member is rare and should be taken with a grain of salt. In a breach of propriety that raises questions about his integrity, the excerpts reveal Gates to be surprisingly petty at times, such as when he complains about spending cuts at the Pentagon and the lack of notice about Obama’s decision to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gays serving in the military.

Then remember why Obama was elected in 2008. He reflected the nation’s ambivalence toward war, promising to pull out of Iraq and wean Afghanistan from U.S. dependence. His predecessor, President George W. Bush, waged war on Iraq under false pretenses and with a lack of skepticism toward neoconservatives in his war Cabinet, led by Vice President Dick Cheney. Initially, anyway, he deferred to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his generals. Famously calling himself “The Decider,” Bush rarely revisited a decision, and earned a reputation for stubbornness…

If military commanders were shown disrespect or given obstacles to fighting war, that would be one thing. But if they were questioned and challenged and kept in check, it is another. Isn’t that the president’s job?

Robert Gates Memoir Critical Of Obama Administration On Afghanistan (But Was Their Skepticism Towards War Really A Bad Thing?)

Robert Gates is receiving a lot of attention today for his memoir entitled Duty. I suspect that this will have limited long-term impact, but for now it provides a source for lots of quotes both positive and negative about Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden. We must also take into consideration that the initial report comes from Bob Woodward, who has not been all that reliable in recent years and his selected quotes may or may not be representative of what Gates wrote in the entire memoir. Plus it is not necessarily a bad thing for civilian politicians to show skepticism of military action which might be upsetting to someone with a more military background. Gates is not necessarily correct in his assessment of all matters. For example, Max Fisher writes that Gates was wrong on the most important issue he faced in failing to see the opportunity for peace with the former Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev. Gates certainly got in wrong in arguing that Gorbachev was not a reformer.

While the headline of the story reports negative comments from Gates about Barack Obama’s skepticism and lack of interest continuing the war in Afghanistan, Gates also wrote “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.”It is hardly a surprise that Obama had mixed feelings about that war which he inherited.

Comments that Hillary Clinton opposed the surge on political grounds might be politically harmful, especially if  used to support the narrative that Clinton lacks principle and is guided by political expediency (not that considering the views of the public is necessarily a bad thing). On the other hand he also wrote this about Clinton: “I found her smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough-minded, indefatigable, funny, a very valuable colleague, and a superb representative of the United States all over the world.” I can already see this quote in Clinton campaign ads.

Gates was hardest on Joe Biden, complaining about his  “aggressive, suspicious, and sometimes condescending and insulting questioning of our military leaders.” Another account of the book in The New York Times quotes Gates as writing, “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” I think that that with the current anti-war mood of the country, the portrayal of Biden as a major skeptic of the Afghanistan war might wind up doing him far more good than such a broad-based attack.

Republicans Overplaying Their Hand On Benghazi: Military Experts And Public Don’t Believe Them

Here’s a few quick links in case you are getting lost in all the Republican noise on Benghazi, such as Darrel Issa attacking Barack Obama for describing  the killing of Americans in Libya as an “act of terror” rather than a “terrorist attack.” Here’s a partial run down of people who are not very impressed with the Republican arguments:

The military isn’t impressed. A National Security column in Foreign Policy argues that military force would not have been successful in response to the attack.

Don’t want to believe a columnist who might be a Democrat? How about a Republican who has been Secretary of Defense:

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates forcefully defended the Obama administration on Sunday against charges that it did not do enough to prevent the tragedy in Benghazi, telling CBS’ “Face the Nation” that some critics of the administration have a “cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces.”

Gates, a Republican who was appointed by then-President George W. Bush in 2006 and agreed to stay through more than two years of President Obama’s first term, repeatedly declined to criticize the policymakers who devised a response to the September 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.

“Frankly, had I been in the job at the time, I think my decisions would have been just as theirs were,” said Gates, now the chancellor of the College of William and Mary.

“We don’t have a ready force standing by in the Middle East, and so getting somebody there in a timely way would have been very difficult, if not impossible.” he explained.

Suggestions that we could have flown a fighter jet over the attackers to “scare them with the noise or something,” Gates said, ignored the “number of surface to air missiles that have disappeared from [former Libyan leader] Qaddafi’s arsenals.”

“I would not have approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances,” he said.

Another suggestion posed by some critics of the administration, to, as Gates said, “send some small number of special forces or other troops in without knowing what the environment is, without knowing what the threat is, without having any intelligence in terms of what is actually going on on the ground, would have been very dangerous.”

“It’s sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces,” he said. “The one thing that our forces are noted for is planning and preparation before we send people in harm’s way, and there just wasn’t time to do that.”

Gates said he could not speak to allegations that the State Department refused requests for additional security in the months prior to the attack. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been increasingly targeted for criticism by Republicans for her handling of the crisis and the government’s response, with some even raising the possibility that the State Department engineered a coverup to protect her political future.

But when Gates was asked whether he thought that might be a possibility, he replied flatly, “No.”

“I worked with Secretary Clinton pretty closely for two and a half years, and I wouldn’t want to try and be somebody…trying to convince her to say something she did not think was true,” he said, adding that he has not spoken with Clinton about the events in Benghazi.

The public is also unimpressed by these transparently political attacks. Republicans believe they can harm Hillary Clinton politically over Benghazi, but so far there is no evidence of this . Public Policy Polling found that more people trust Clinton than the Republican Congress:

PPP’s newest national poll finds that Republicans aren’t getting much traction with their focus on Benghazi over the last week. Voters trust Hillary Clinton over Congressional Republicans on the issue of Benghazi by a 49/39 margin and Clinton’s +8 net favorability rating at 52/44 is identical to what it was on our last national poll in late March. Meanwhile Congressional Republicans remain very unpopular with a 36/57 favorability rating.

Voters think Congress should be more focused on other major issues right now rather than Benghazi. By a 56/38 margin they say passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill is more important than continuing to focus on Benghazi, and by a 52/43 spread they think passing a bill requiring background checks for all gun sales should be a higher priority.

This part sounds like a Sarah Palin joke:

One interesting thing about the voters who think Benghazi is the biggest political scandal in American history is that 39% of them don’t actually know where it is. 10% think it’s in Egypt, 9% in Iran, 6% in Cuba, 5% in Syria, 4% in Iraq, and 1% each in North Korea and Liberia with 4% not willing to venture a guess.

I bet they also don’t know what happened there, or that it was the Republicans who cut funding for embassy security.

Republicans Are The Last Ones To Seriously Cut The Deficit

Earlier in the week Freddy “The Beetle” Barnes suggested in his column that Barack Obama would secretly be happy to see the Republicans take control of the House as this would make it easier to balance the budget. I’m not sure which is more ridiculous–Obama wanting to deal with a Republican-controlled Congress or to think that a party as fiscally irresponsible as the GOP would help balance the budget.  Joe Klein set Barnes straight:

1. There is no way the President is rooting for a Republican takeover of the Congress, given the extremist, recalcitrant path the party has taken in recent years. The rumor that Barnes cites is nonsense.

2. The Republicans have shown no–I mean, zero–interest in cutting the budget in the past. They didn’t do it under Reagan; they didn’t do it under Bush Junior. Quite the opposite, they exploded the budget deficit with wars and tax cuts. The exception was the Clinton era, when Ross Perot’s success changed the political landscape for a few years, making budget-cutting cool. But the Republicans’ usual modus operandi is to take really courageous stands against federal funding for the arts–a huge program!–or federally-funded abortion…overseas, or earmarks (while sneaking their own pet projects into Christmas tree bills), but when a real budget-cutting proposal comes along like Rep. Paul Ryan’s honest but ridiculous Medicare evisceration, they run for the hills.

3. There ain’t all that much to cut. Really. The discretionary domestic spending that Barnes talks about is chump change. The real money, as everyone knows, is in defense and entitlements. Some leaders of the Tea Party movement, to their credit, have raised the possibility of cutting the defense budget (which, in truth, is what the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would like to do but can’t because of Congress, especially the sun belt Republicans with defense plants). Social Security can be fixed fairly easily, and Barnes is right in this case–it’s Democrats who oppose some of the more plausible fixes, like raising the retirement age (although Republicans have demagogued the essential Clinton-initiated component of taxing the benefits of wealthy Social Security recipients). And there is Medicare, where the real solution–moving recipients out of fee-for-service and into managed care–is about as popular as the oil spill.

So Barnes is peddling from an empty sack here–and, assuming an even rudimentary knowledge of the federal budget on his part, he knows it. The fact that the Journal would print such twaddle as opinion and not the utterly cynical propaganda that it is shows the marked disintegration of respect for coherent thought at that Temple of Right-Thinking. It would be nice to have an actual conversation about this stuff, but it just seems impossible.

Hoekstra Criticized By Former National Security Officials For Scare Tactics

My Congressman is once again up to resorting to scare tactics. Pete Hoekstra already destroyed his credibility with discredited claims of finding WMD in Iraq. Now that he hopes to run for Governor of Michigan, he is trying to find new ways to scare people into voting for him. This time he is using fear of terrorism to attack possible plans to move prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to Standish, Michigan. The Michigan Messenger reports opposition to his claims:

A group of former national security officials and military officers who have worked on the Guantanamo Bay military tribunals have written a letter to Rep. Pete Hoekstra criticizing him for “politicizing” the debate over a possible plan to transfer Gitmo detainees to a maximum security prison in Standish, Michigan.

Here is the letter sent to Hoekstra:

As military and national security officials who have spent our entire careers fighting to protect the American people and the defend country from attack, we all agree that the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay needs to be closed-as do five former Secretaries of State, Gen. David Petraeus, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. We also agree with you that the discussion over closing Guantanamo and moving the detainees to a new facility needs to occur, as you have said, in a “civil and rational way.” That is why we were disappointed last week-during a town hall meeting in Standish, MI, whose prison is a possible site to detain terror suspects -to hear you politicize such a critical national security issue and disseminate misrepresentations and exaggerations about closing Guantanamo and the possibility of housing terrorist suspects on American soil. In doing so, you spread fear in order to score political points, and perpetuate the Bush/Cheney era strategy of seeking political victories instead of doing what’s right to protect the country.

According to reports, you said there was “much to fear” if the detainees came to Standish. Standish tavern owner Dave Munson stated your comments “scared the heck out [him]…soft targets and safe zones, that if they came to this country they would have rights, visitors and friends would come who could be jihadists.” But you also acknowledged that the Supermax Facility in Florence, CO-which houses terrorists like Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the first World Trade Center attack who was captured in Pakistan, Zacharias Moussaoui, convicted in connection to the attacks on 9/11, as well as the East Africa Embassy bombers-has never had a major incident or attempted jailbreak. And indeed American prison facilities-and the men and women who work there-have proven themselves extremely capable of protecting American lives while also imprisoning dangerous terrorists; even after decades, we have never had a major incident tied to the domestic imprisonment of terrorists.

The former warden of the Supermax facility said prisoners “spend up to 23 hours a day in their cells, every minute, every meal. The window in their cell is blocked so they can’t see the mountains.” Yet you stated that detainees housed in America “would have greater opportunities to command and control their networks through outsiders and to spread radical jihadist ideology.” The Supermax warden also stated that Ramzi Yousef has never left his cell. If the same-if not stricter-standards are applied to Guantanamo detainees held domestically, then how exactly would they command terrorist networks overseas?

You also said in the past that you “have no doubt that we could move these folks into a prison in Michigan. We could move them into a maximum security prison perhaps anywhere around the country. And there’s no doubt in my mind that we could probably contain them and hold them and they wouldn’t escape.” Do you still believe this to be the case?

You also stated in testimony to the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee that “making Michigan home to the world’s most dangerous terrorists will not make it more attractive for tourists, families or potential job providers.” We ask if you can say with certainty that Colorado’s economy has been negatively affected by housing terrorists in the Florence facility-or the economies of Illinois, New York City, or North Carolina, for that matter-which have all held or detained some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists?

The bottom line is while the Administration should provide a clear plan for closing Guantanamo and transferring detainees, we should also not allow the destructive politics of fear, which tarnish America’s national security imperatives, to dictate the debate. By stirring up panic and distorting reality for political purposes, you do a disservice to the people of Michigan and the United States. Politicizing national security for partisan gain has dangerous consequences for effectively defending this country and protecting American lives.

You yourself once demanded that “partisan political games have no place when it comes to national security.” We ask you to live up to your own standards when it comes to discussing Guantanamo Bay and detainees. Whether it’s in Standish Michigan or the halls of Congress, politicizing national security is always dangerous. We ask you to return the debate to the “civil and rational” in order to stop the spreading of fear that plays into the very hands of the enemies we are trying to defeat.


Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham (US Army Res. Ret.), Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants at Guantanamo Bay, 2004-2005
Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton (USA, Ret.), National Security Network Senior Adviser
Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, Jr. (USA Ret.)
Vice Admiral Lee Gunn (USN, Ret.)
Lt. Gen. Donald Kerrick (USA, Ret.), Former Deputy National Security Adviser
Richard Clarke, Former head of counterterrorism at the National Security Council
Margaret Henoch, Retired Senior Officer, Central Intelligence Agency
Jonathan Winer, Former Deputy Assistant Sec. of State for International Law Enforcement
Vic Comras, Former State Department Minister Counselor
Michael Kraft, Former Senior Advisor, State Department Counterterrorism Office

Rick Santorum is Dangerous–Even to Republicans

Rick Santorum has been taking trips to Iowa which is assumed to be in preparation for running for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Even former Bush and McCain strategist Mark McKinnon finds this to be a scary prospect.He believes Santorum represents everything that is bad about the Republican party, plus there are some strange questions about his character:

Santorum is a strong neoconservative who represented Pennsylvania in the House of Representatives and the Senate over a 16-year period and rose to the No. 3 leadership position among Republicans.

Santorum once grouped gay sex with incest, polygamy, and bestiality, and he believes consenting adults have no constitutional right to privacy when it comes to sexual behavior. He is a strong supporter of teaching intelligent design. He is anti-gay, anti-immigrant—supporting the most extreme anti-immigrant legislative proposals though he is the son of an Italian immigrant father—antiabortion, and anti-anything that smacks of progressive thinking, centrism, bipartisanship, or moderation in the Republican Party.

Santorum was one of only two senators who voted against Robert Gates to be secretary of Defense because Gates advocated talking to Iran and Syria, which Santorum said would be talking to “radical Islam” and would be a grievous error.

Santorum represents, in my view, much of what is wrong the in the Republican Party. While I disagree with him on some fundamental issues, I am much more concerned with his lack of character.

Here’s why.

Early in 2008, Santorum claimed a John McCain presidency would be “very, very dangerous for Republicans.” OK, he was entitled to support the candidate of his choice, but launching vicious frontal attacks on McCain that continued well after he received the nomination did nothing but hurt the GOP and its chances.

McKinnon had some additional examples and then described the really weird one:

I’m a pretty tolerant guy, but beyond his ideology, some of Santorum’s behavior is just a little bizarre. For example, Santorum has six children. In 1996, he had son born prematurely who lived for only two hours. He and wife brought the child home and introduced the dead infant to the rest of their children as “your brother Gabriel” and slept with the body overnight.

Debunking Cheney

Earlier in the week Dick Cheney gave a speech after Barack Obama on national security and the media went along with the hype that this was some sort of debate between the two. Dick Cheney is a war criminal who is wrong on most national security issues, and whose ideas were rejected in the past election. Even the Republican candidate rejected some of Cheney’s more extreme positions, such as support for torture (which is a war crime). Hearing Dick Cheney try to excuse his war crimes and attack Obama should not be taken as a debate between the two as if they are still on equal footing.

Joe Klein interpreted Cheney’s speech in the context of his overall philosophy:

I refer readers to Barton Gellman’s excellent Cheney biography, Angler, in which it is made plain that Cheney’s view of the presidency (provided by his thuggish counsel, David Addington) was eccentric at best; and, at worst, a temporary coup d’etat, abetted by the President’s lack of interest or mortal dimness. It’s true, as Brooks writes, that some of Cheney’s overreach was a result of understandable panic after the 9/11 attacks. But the real problem, as evidenced by the Vice President’s actions in other areas (like environmental policy), was Cheney’s twisted belief that the Constitution confers on the President near-dictatorial powers, especially in a time of war. Cheney’s profound authoritarian streak, and his moral ignorance, were demonstrated once again in his speech yesterday:

“In the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground and half-measures leave you half-exposed.”

Which is utter nonsense, of course: the middle ground exists between doing nothing and doing far too much, too brutally–in a way that only creates more terrorists–a path that Cheney pursued to our great national detriment.

He also discussed the differences in Obama’s views:

In fact, the thrust of Obama’s national security policy is dramatically different from Bush’s. His emphasis on a comprehensive regional approach in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the opposite of Bush’s feckless abandonment of this far more crucial fight in the war against Al Qaeda. His decision to engage Iran, his decision to push forward in the Middle East (including the demand that Israel stop building illegal settlements), his decision to participate in global climate change talks, his decision not to indulge in the disdain–manifested by Cheney yet again in his speech–for our European allies. These are all dramatic turns for the better.

The difference between Obama and Cheney-Bush on national security and foreign policy issues is simply put: it’s the difference between a moderate and an extremist, the difference between a leader and a bully.

Even Tom Ridge disagreed with Cheney’s claims that the country is less safe under Obama.

McClatchy listed many factual errors made by Cheney:


David Gregory: The Safe Interviewer

I had doubts about David Gregory taking over as moderator of Meet the Press. Television reviewer Verne Gay isn’t very impressed with the job Gregory has done so far:

The new moderator often seems like he’s wearing a suit made for someone else – Russert – and as a result has yet to clearly establish why he got this gig instead of anyone else in the conga line of potential successors. Gregory is terrifically polished, well-informed, a good listener and has the talking points of both sides down cold. But he also seems more intent on covering the waterfront than digging for news, or in pushing the talking heads off their talking points. Recent interviews with Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) felt like a waterfront that went on for miles – an endless vista of chatter and spin. His exclusive interview with Defense Secretary Robert Gates was thoughtful and probing, but not particularly memorable.

BOTTOM LINE “Meet the Press” is now the de facto safe show on Sunday morning – “safe,” that is, for those being interviewed.

Gregory has been handed perhaps the most important program in television journalism. It’s time to start acting like the king who rules wisely yet ruthlessly. Otherwise, his legacy will match that of Garrick Utley or Bill Monroe – moderators who were highly respected but not highly feared. In this job, it’s vital to be both.

Military Accused of Infringing Upon Religious Freedom

The Founding Fathers set up a secular state in order to guarantee the rights of all to worship, or not worship, as they choose. In the early days of the nation, religious leaders such as Roger Williams were among the strongest defenders of separation of church and state. In 1960 John Kennedy said while campaigning,  “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” In this presidential campaign, Barack Obama has explained:

For my friends on the right, I think it would be helpful to remember the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy but also our religious practice. Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn’t the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment. It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John Leland who didn’t want the established churches to impose their views on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the scripture to slaves.

It was the forbearers of Evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious, because they didn’t want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it. Given this fact, I think that the right might worry a bit more about the dangers of sectarianism.

Despite this tradition of a secular government, there is one portion of the government which is controlled by religious fundamentalists who, unlike religious groups of the past, fail to respect separation of church and state. A news report from yesterday shows the latest example of the lack of respect for religious freedom in the military:

Since his last combat deployment in Iraq, Jeremy Hall has had a rough time, getting shoved and threatened by his fellow soldiers. The trouble started there when he would not pray in the mess hall.”A senior ranking staff sergeant told me to leave and sit somewhere else because I refused to pray,” Hall, a 23-year-old US army specialist, told AFP.

Later, Hall was confronted by a major for holding an authorized meeting of “atheists and freethinkers” on his base. The officer threatened to discipline him and block his re-enlistment.

“He said: ‘You guys are being a problem and problems can be removed,'” Hall said. “He was yelling at us and stuff and at the very end he says, ‘I really love you guys, I want you to see the light.'”

Now Hall is suing the major and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, accusing them of breaching his constitutional rights. A campaign group, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is waiting for the Pentagon to respond to a lawsuit filed in a Kansas federal court on Hall’s behalf.

It alleges a “pernicious pattern and practice” of infringement of religious liberties in the military.

The group’s founder, former Air Force lawyer Mikey Weinstein, said he has documented 6,800 testimonies by military personnel — nearly all of them Christians — of sometimes punitive or humiliating attempts to make them accept a fundamentalist evangelical interpretation of Christianity.

“I am at war with those people who would create a fundamentalist Christian theocracy in the technologically most lethal organization ever created by our species, which is the United States armed forces,” he said.

With perhaps a bit of snark, P.Z. Myers finds this to be a major barrier to secularism:

I’m not the violent sort, and I think we need to achieve an enlightened society through reason and education … but that’s all futile when the other side is busily gathering the guns.