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The Army's three-star zealot

Friday, October 17, 2003

A year ago last June, a two-star Army general stood in the pulpit of First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, Okla., and identified the source of all America's problems.

Pointing to a dark shadow on several photographs he shot of Mogadishu's skyline from a helicopter shortly after 18 Americans were killed in the "Black Hawk Down" debacle, Army Lt. Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin assured the congregation that, indeed, they were witnessing the faint outline of Satan hovering over Somalia.

Gen. Boykin isn't one to resort to metaphors when speaking of the battle between good and evil. "It is a demonic presence in that city that God revealed to me as the enemy," he said, indicting the devil for the murder of 18 American soldiers.

Hundreds of ragtag mercenaries of Somali warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid, still laboring under the impression that it was they who did the actual killing of the soldiers in the streets of Mogadishu, will be relieved to hear that Satan is the designated fall guy, as usual.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently awarded Gen. Boykin another star and put him in charge of the hunt for Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Boykin's official title is deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, but you can call him the Lord's right arm if you like.

A deeply devout man, Gen. Boykin has long considered himself a holy warrior whose primary mission is to protect our "Christian nation" from insurgent Islam and the forces of Satan's nondenominational minions.

"George Bush was not elected by a majority of voters in the United States," Gen. Boykin told an Oregon congregation in a moment of biblical clarity five months ago. "He was appointed by God."

Members of the U.S. Supreme Court, still laboring under the impression that it was they who appointed George Bush to the presidency, will be relieved to hear that God is the designated fall guy, as usual.

Boykin's insistence that the Axis of Evil is a manifestation of Satan's power aimed at destroying this "Christian nation" makes him a walking provocation for an Islamic world already spooked by Bush's glib calls to mount an international "crusade" against terrorism in the weeks following Sept. 11.

The White House finally got wise to Islamic sensitivities and banished "crusade" from the president's speeches, but Boykin continues to paint the war on terror as a battle between Christian civilization and Satan. He's a chilling echo of Sterling Hayden's Jack D. Ripper character in "Dr. Strangelove."

When not chasing terrorists, Boykin never misses an opportunity to proclaim America's special relationship to God in churches across the country.

Given the depth of Boykin's sense of spiritual and military siege by Satan and the Muslims, is he really the right choice for coordinating American intelligence interests in the Arab world? Judging by his frequent references to Allah as a mute "idol," how could his dealings with our Muslim allies be anything but condescending, if not openly contemptuous?

Trying to find Osama in the thick of pro-Taliban strongholds in Pakistan and Afghanistan is difficult enough without saddling already skimpy field intelligence with another layer of dogmatic distraction from the top.

When an infidel like Saddam Hussein can hide behind the Quran because his pursuers resort to anti-Muslim rhetoric to boost their standing with church ladies back home, American lives are needlessly endangered in Tikrit and Baghdad.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times yesterday, William M. Arkin, a military affairs analyst, made a compelling case that Boykin is an "intolerant extremist" whose millennial pronouncements are at odds with the administration he ostensibly claims to serve.

"Boykin has made it clear that he takes his orders not from his Army superiors, but from God, which is a worrisome line of command," Arkin wrote.

You could fool yourself into believing the war on terrorism wasn't a complete farce if the man assigned to capture bin Laden and Saddam Hussein didn't see Satan's face in every smudged photograph.


Tony Norman can be reached at tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631.

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