Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other members of the Obama administration spent the better part of Thursday mulling over the possibility that one of them would make a phone call to the pastor of a small Florida church vowing to burn Qurans on the anniversary of the Sept.11 terrorist attacks.
This “unusual measure,” said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morell Thursday, was an attempt to convince the pastor that the Quran burning was “not the right thing to proceed with.”
The administration decided the person to make the call would be Defense Secretary Gates.
But such a phone call could create a “slippery slope” in which copycats across the country might demand similar concessions, Mr. Morrell said. However, he added in a briefing Thursday with reporters, “We may now find ourselves in the situation where we believe the risk to our forces outweighs the potential bad precedent or slippery slope that’s set by a phone call such as this.”
The matter was particularly sensitive for Gates, Morrell said. “We feel particularly exposed here in light of how closely we operate with people of the Muslim faith, and so I think we want to make sure that every measure is taken to try to avoid this potentially inflammatory situation.”
Florida church pastor Terry Jones indicated that “he would likely call off the event if called by a member of the Obama administration,” Morrell said. But, even so, the wishes of the administration should have already been apparent to the Rev. Mr. Jones, he added. “I think the message is out there loud and clear. It’s impossible to miss the message…. This is not a smart thing to do. This has the potential to further endanger our forces already in harm’s way.”
Jones’s threats this week sparked waves of protests throughout Afghanistan, and concern over violence associated with the Quran burning also led to “heightened awareness” for the security of US troops providing flood aid relief in Pakistan, said Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, in a briefing with reporters Friday.
The potential repercussions of making such a phone call, however, remain a source of concern within the administration. “This was not an easy decision,” Lapan said. “Could it open the door to copycats?” added Morrell. “Absolutely.”