I'm writing this post in the attempt to correct the wrong impression that Newt Gingrich's criticism of President Obama's apology regarding the Afghan Koran burnings has sowed in the American and international news media:
The reason Obama had to issue an apology, and a hasty one, is that the Nato command announced that it would have the findings of the investigation into the Koran burning incident ready by Thursday -- that being yesterday. Yesterday being the day before Friday prayers at the mosques in Afghanistan. So all of Afghanistan was waiting on Thursday for the Nato announcement about the findings of the investigation, which didn't materialize.
With no findings forthcoming on Thursday, and with only hours to attempt to avert a bloodbath, President Karzai needed something, anything, that might take the edge off the anger of Afghans prior to the Friday prayer meets. Thus, a rare apology from an American president.
So this isn't the kind of situation that led to Nato's knee-jerk apology to Pakistan in the immediate aftermath of the November 2011 cross-border shooting of Pakistani soldiers before Nato and the American command even had a chance to investigate the incident to learn what had happened.
Obama's decision in this case was in the manner of a triage decision, made in the attempt to save American civilians working in Afghanistan under minimal security, as well as the lives of other foreign nationals there, as well as Afghan lives, from mob rampages.
Newt's public statements about the Koran burning incident also make clear something else he didn't understand: he didn't take into account the Nato investigation, which was launched only three days ago. The Koran incident is complex and in several ways mysterious. Just one of the many questions that need to be answered is whether the prison at Bagram had been disposing of worn or otherwise unusable Islamic-related materials for years, and without burning them. If that's the case, just exactly how did such materials end up in a burn pit on one occasion?
In short, it needs to be ruled out whether an act of sabotage had been committed against the American and/or Nato command in Afghanistan or against the Afghan government in an attempt to further destabilize Karzai's regime.
The Nato spokesman who announced the investigation on Wednesday made an oblique reference to the above angle when he listed in a televised appearance the surprisingly large number of factors that the investigators had to examine.
Just one item on the list involved going up and down the entire chain of command to learn exactly who decided what in relation to the books at the prison.
So he was talking about casting a wide net. I wondered at the time I heard him speak how such a thorough investigation could be completed by the next day. Perhaps he also wondered. It could be that the announcement of a Thursday deadline was another example of Nato's infamous communication breakdowns during the Afghan expedition, which have often found one hand not knowing what the other is doing.
And it could be the same with Nato hastily terming the incident an "accident" and a "mistake" -- perhaps a politically correct statement in the effort to placate public opinion in Afghanistan. If so, the attempt placated no one.
In any event, the seriousness of the Koran burning incident warrants a very detailed forensic investigation, which can take considerable time -- time being the thing the Karzai regime is fresh out of, as it's watched the clock approach Friday prayers.
I do appreciate Newt's outrage, if the families of the two American soldiers have not yet received an apology from Karzai. And yet doing the 'right' thing in the face of an approaching lynch mob is often not the top priority.
The top priority at this time is to prevent more deaths and disperse the mobs, several of which are being incited and directed by Taliban operatives and other anti-American factions. This effort is particularly critical so that the rioting doesn't spread to other countries.
In short, President Obama and his advisors at the State Department are trying to stop a runaway freight train; his apology has to be seen in that light.
Several Afghans have been killed and wounded in the rioting during the past three days. So when calm has been restored, when cool heads in Afghanistan (and there are many such) have prevailed, then will be the time for a formal public apology from Karzai to the families of the slain Americans, and perhaps even a memorial service for all those killed during the rioting including the American soldiers.
Finally, Newt Gingrich's knee-jerk criticism of Barack Obama's apology is part and parcel of the American domestic political scene, and understood by the most informed Americans as such. But American domestic political jousting has no place in high-stakes U.S. diplomatic and security initiatives -- and they're all high stakes initiatives during a time of war.