Editorial: Troops messed up; Obama’s apology was right

Esteban Diaz | Editorial Cartoonist

A decision by some NATO troops in Afghanistan has escalated to riots and the deaths of at least 29 people.

The troops, stationed at U.S. military base Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, burned Qurans to dispose of them. A military official told CNN last Tuesday the Qurans had “an appearance that these documents were being used to facilitate extremist communications.”

After reports of the incident reached civilians in the area, various protests have combined to kill at least 29 people. That number includes two NATO service members who were killed inside a secured part of the Afghanistan Ministry of Interior.

In the troops’ defense, Gen. John Allen, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, said last Tuesday, “It was not a decision that was made with respect to the faith of Islam. It was a mistake. It was an error.”

We don’t think the burning of Qurans justifies deadly protests, but more importantly we think the burning and subsequent riots teach a lesson we learn over and over yet manage to forget.

Say what you want about political correctness, but there are words and gestures we know offend people.

We stay away from them, because there are often other things we can say or do to convey a message or complete a task.

Many followers of Islam, a religion followed by 99 percent of Afghanistan according to the CIA World Factbook, find the Quran so holy that they must wash their hands before picking it up. Burning that book in that part of the world can’t be a good idea.

That act should not grant permission to violently protest, but surely somebody at Bagram Airfield had to think somebody else in or around the military base would take offense to such desecration of a holy book.

As if burning Qurans wasn’t bad enough, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney left us shaking our heads with their responses to President Barack Obama’s apology for the NATO troops’ actions.

Obama sent a three-page letter to Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai discussing several issues, one of which was the destroyed Qurans.

“I wish to express my deep regret for the reported incident,” the letter said. It later added, “The error was inadvertent. I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.”

Santorum and Romney attacked Obama for his apology.

On ABC’s “This Week,” Santorum said, “to apologize for something that was not an intentional act is something that the president of the United States, in my opinion, should not have done.”

Romney said Sunday on Fox News, “We’ve made an enormous contribution to help the people there achieve freedom, and for us to be apologizing at a time like this is something which is very difficult for the American people to countenance.”

Santorum’s statement lacks common sense. Think about every time you’ve bumped into somebody on the sidewalk accidentally and apologized — you apologize without even thinking about it.

People apologize all the time for unintentional acts, and we don’t think the American people have a problem with doing that.

People might, however, appreciate an apology from Karzai for the U.S. troops killed in the protests.

Apology or no apology from Karzai, though, we can’t deny that the NATO troops did something wrong even if they weren’t trying to. Obama made the right move and took accountability for a mistake.