Just when Texas Gov. Rick Perry started to hit a rhetorical groove ("vulture capitalism" was a brilliant criticism of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, though it's one Perry may regret if Romney continues on a path to the nomination), he stumbles. Again. And given the opportunity to fix it, he digs in.
The question was over a disturbing videotape of U.S. Marines apparently urinating on Taliban bodies. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has rightly denounced the behavior; Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta called it "utterly despicable." Perry said he thought the behavior was inappropriate, but gave a semi-defense of the Marines, calling them "kids" and saying the Obama administration has engaged in "over-the-top rhetoric" that showed a "disdain for the military."
There are a couple of problems with that analysis. One is that while the Marines may be young, they are not "kids," and what they did was not some sort of fraternity prank. The Marines are entrusted with a great deal of responsibility and risk, and by apparently desecrating the bodies of Muslim men, they have created a whole new set of Taliban recruits with whom other Marines will have to tangle. The second mistake Perry made (three seems too many things to expect Perry to remember) is that Leon Panetta
the military. He is the Marines' boss. And President Obama, as commander-in-chief and president of a nation where the military is deliberately put in the ultimate control of civilians, is also their boss.
Still, Perry doubled down in the GOP debate in South Carolina. Given the chance to explain himself a little bit, Perry again railed against "this administration's disdain all too often for our men and women in uniform." That's a statement in need of explaining all on its own, particularly given the work that Michelle Obama and Jill Biden have done for military families. It seemed anyway more like a generic remark meant to push the political buttons of those who assume no Democrat can do right by U.S. troops.
Added Perry, "Let me tell you what's utterly despicable: Cutting Danny Pearl's head off and showing the video of it. Hanging our contractors from bridges, that's utterly despicable."
Yes, it is. That's why the United States, as a civilized nation, denounces such behavior.
There are legitimate issues to be raised over the response to the video. It's worth asking ourselves, for example, why killing itself is acceptable, but mishandling the corpse is somehow appalling. The real crime here—for nations and armed movements around the world—is war as a way to resolve differences. It's not likely we'll end that practice anytime soon. But in the meantime, we don't have to make it worse.