The Rev. Terry Jones may just have exposed the ultimate futility of America's war in Afghanistan. Consider the portrait of frustrated impotence America presented to the world last week.
Our president and the secretaries of state and defense deplored Pastor Jones' plan to burn 100 Qurans but could do nothing to stop him, other than to plead with him. Jones decided to call it off himself.
What was the message received by a billion Muslims?
"Muslims must understand that our Constitution protects the desecration of your holiest book. America is a place where people have a right to denounce Islam as a religion 'of the Devil' and burn the Quran in public."
Having gotten the message, Afghan mobs chanting, "Death to America," burned the American flag and set off to kill our soldiers.
Can rural Afghans understand the refusal of a U.S. president to stop what they see as a televised sacrilege against their faith? In their country, Jones would have been stoned to death. That is who they are.
What would a U.S. soldier say to an Afghan soldier who asked, "If you Americans believe it is the exercise of a precious right to burn our holy book, the Quran, why should we fight beside you, against fellow Muslims, who would fight to protect the Quran?"
Had Jones' Quran-burning gone forward, the televised pictures would have gone out to the world. The impact would likely have been of the same magnitude as that of the Dutch cartoons of the Prophet that ignited riots across Europe and the Islamic world, and the anti-Islamic scribbles of Salmon Rushdie that earned the novelist a fatwa -- a death sentence -- from Ayatollah Khomeini.
Now consider the message sent to U.S. troops.
Their commander, Gen. Petraeus, warned that, should the Quran burning proceed, it could endanger their lives and imperil the mission President Obama sent them to fight and die for.
To those troops, President Obama was saying that his read on the First Amendment forbids him from interfering with book-burnings in America that could get them killed in Afghanistan.
How do you fight and win a war like that, with a war president like that? Saturday, the president declared: "Americans are not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam. It was not a religion that attacked us ... it was al-Qaida." President Bush declared Islam "a religion of peace."
Both statements are understandable, for if we are perceived as at war with Islam, we will lose that war, and Osama bin Laden will have won by having broadened and defined what the war was about.