So you're President Rick Perry and a video of young Marines appearing to be urinating on dead Taliban fighters has gone viral. What's your reaction? Teens will be teens?
Probably not, given that Afghan officials are shocked and livid while Taliban leaders - the ones you are trying to bring into negotiations with the Afghan government -- are denouncing "inhumane" behavior by "wild American soldiers."
No, probably you would react more like Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who called the apparent behavior "utterly deplorable" and said the Marines would be held accountable if their actions can be confirmed. Or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said she was dismayed.
You would probably be moving heaven and earth to reassure everyone in Afghanistan that this was an unacceptable aberration and that the U.S. military has nothing but respect for Afghanistan and its people and their religions, and crossing your fingers that this wouldn't set back the goal of stopping the Taliban insurgency that's a threat to Afghan stability and international security.
Instead, Perry said on CNN's State of the Union that "18-,19-year-old kids make stupid mistakes all too often, and that's what occurred here." He went on to say that "what is really disturbing to me is just, kind of, the over-the-top rhetoric from this administration and their disdain for the military." He also said charging the Marines with a criminal act would be "over the top."
Desecrating bodies is against U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions, and no one is talking about exactly what will happen to the apparently errant Marines, if in fact their behavior is confirmed, but Perry already has reached his conclusions.
He then went on to suggest that urinating on the enemy is a hallowed American tradition. He compared the video to Gen. George Patton urinating into the Rhine River during a march into Nazi Germany (a famous photograph) and Winston Churchill urinating on the Siegfried line (Germany's line of defense against France).
Those leaders, however, urinated on geographical features, not the bodies of enemies they'd killed. And they probably wouldn't have done it if they thought it might turn up on YouTube.
That point was not lost on interviewer Candy Crowley. "It's a message that could hurt us in the larger world. So I'm not sure the exact age of them, but no matter what age they are, is this the kind of behavior that you think you can tolerate in the day and age when that picture is everywhere?" she asked Perry.
"Well, here's the issue. I will suggest to you that these are 18, 19, 20-year-old kids. They make mistakes. There is video out there of all types of things, I will suggest to you. But the idea that this administration would go after these young people for a criminal act is -- again, I think it is over the top," he said.
Even in the heat of a campaign, some candidates act and speak as if they can envision themselves in the Oval Office, giving us a series of mini-previews of their hoped-for presidencies. Perry seemed Sunday much more like a man who wants to send pro-military, anti-Obama messages to voters - and the geopolitical, military and security implications be damned.
That might get him a point or two in the South Carolina primary, but it revealed the mindset of a candidate, not a future president or commander in chief. It was a lost opportunity to show he's big enough for the office.
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