US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta apologized for the “inappropriate treatment” of the Quran, and promised to launch an investigation into how the decision to burn the Quran was made. "These actions do not represent the views of the United States military,” Mr. Panetta said on Tuesday. “We honor and respect the religious practices of the Afghan people, without exception."
On paper, Panetta is right. US military training manuals offer very specific instructions to all soldiers and civilian employees on how to treat Muslims and their beliefs with respect. US diplomats and military commanders have spent millions of dollars in winning over “hearts and minds,” delivering food, blankets, and religious literature to distant villages; building schools, roads, and mosques. But training guidelines are only useful if they are actually put into practice. And if the past decade of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq is a guide, cultural and religious slights can have devastating effects on the reputation of Western forces in Afghanistan.
Remember the Newsweek story – later retracted – alleging that a US Army translator had flushed a Quran down the toilet at Guantanamo Bay detention center? The story ultimately proved false, or had insufficient backup, but it revealed that the US military did indeed have a code of conduct for US soldiers that prevented them from treating Muslims or their holy book with disrespect.