Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin, the former Delta Force commander, seems to be exactly the kind of warrior America needs to lead us in battle against the kind of fanatics we face.
The general is an evangelical Christian, and from his deep Christian beliefs he derives his convictions about the character of the war we are in and his courage to fight it. But these beliefs may yet cost this splendid soldier his post at the Pentagon, where he has been put in charge of the U.S. campaign to run down, capture or kill Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein
At Christian gatherings, Boykin has declared from pulpits that our enemy is "Satan," that God himself made George Bush president, that America is a "Christian nation," that this is why our enemies hate and attack us.
During these rallies of the faithful, he brings Christians to their feet with a story from his tour in Mogadishu. Boykin was on the hunt for a Somali warlord named Osman Ato. Here is how he describes his capture of the arrogant warlord and their personal confrontation:
"(Osman Ato) went on CNN and he laughed at us, and he said: 'They'll never get me because Allah will protect me. Allah will protect me.' Well, you know what, I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol."
When Ato was captured, three days later, Boykin went into his cell and told him to his face, "You underestimated our God."
Admittedly, not an ecumenical moment. But what is clear from this Mogadishu confrontation is that Jerry Boykin believes Christianity is the true faith, that Jesus is God and that God is guiding America in this war against Satan.
To a devout Christian, there is not only nothing wrong with the general's beliefs, everything is right about them. For just as Muslims do not accept Jesus as God, Christians do not accept Muhammad. Martyrs, whether to Christianity or Islam, do not die to testify that all faiths are equal.
Which brings us to the president's predicament. He does not want the war on terror to become or to be seen as a religious war. He is being pressed by foreign leaders to renounce Boykin. He is being pressured by the press to fire the general for insulting Islam and declaring America a Christian nation.
Yet, as commander in chief, President Bush cannot want to abandon a soldier's soldier like Jerry Boykin for having declared convictions that are probably not too far from the president's own.
In Asia, President Bush put some distance between himself and the general. He told the press, after a meeting with Asian leaders who brought up Boykin remarks: "I said, 'He didn't reflect my opinion. Look, it just doesn't reflect what the government thinks.' And I think they were pleased to hear that."
Well, some Americans were not pleased to hear that. For these words suggest Bush may be about to throw a Christian warrior to the wolves to appease Asian "allies" who do not have all that many troops in the field fighting alongside us.
Let us go back to what the general said. He said that America is a "Christian nation." So what? If Israelis can call Israel a Jewish nation, and we call Iran and Saudi Arabia Islamic nations and Poland and Ireland Catholic nations, what is wrong with Boykin calling ours "a Christian nation." Secularists can call America a secular nation. Are American Christians alone to remain mute?
As for Osama, he may not be Satan, but he does a pretty good imitation. And anyone who has read his declaration of war against us knows that Osama sees this as a religious war against "the Crusaders" -- i.e., the people of the Christian cross who are to be expelled from the Islamic world. Boykin takes Osama at his word.
And if he believes this is a war against Satan, is that all that different from Bush saying that we fight an "axis of evil"? Is it all that different from FDR singing "Onward Christian Soldiers" with Churchill while writing the Atlantic Charter and plotting anti-Nazi strategy at Placentia Bay?
As for Boykin's remark that Allah is an "idol," it was made in a battle a dozen years ago about a Somali warlord who mocked the general's country and proclaimed the superiority of his God. And the general has publicly declared that this war is not a war against Islam.
The commander in chief should stand by this soldier. If he cashiers him, he will damage the morale of the military and Christian community, whose hero the general is and who are among his most loyal followers. What would be gained? The people who want the general demoted and humiliated are not the president's friends.