Retired General and Bush Official Blast Mosque Opposition

››› ››› JOE STRUPP

A retired general and a former Bush Administration official harshly criticized efforts to block the building of a mosque in lower Manhattan, contending such a position is unconstitutional and could harm U.S. relations overseas.

Major General Paul Eaton, a retired Army commander who oversaw the training of Iraqi troops following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, both slammed right-wing opposition to the Mosque.

"What we are seeing out of the Republican Party here is just appalling," Eaton told me Monday. "From a constitutional perspective, from a common sense perspective and from a military perspective."

Eaton added, "This is an extreme right-wing backlash to what we stand for: freedom to practice religion of your choice."

Eaton also pointed out that it is a local decision in which federal officials should not be involved: "It is a very local issue."

Wilkerson agreed, stating: "If they want to build something on private land, it is unconstitutional to say otherwise. It is all about religious freedom, they can build wherever they want to build."

Both men also pointed to a detrimental impact such opposition can have on U.S. relations overseas with Islamic countries, and even put U.S. military men and women at risk.

"It is like offering your opponent two or three whips with which to beat you," said Wilkerson. "The impact on our military people would be injurious if we say 'no.' It would put another instrument in the hands of those who want to exploit the fear that Americans are at war with Islam and not the radical elements within it."

Eaton echoed that view, noting: "It is a slap in the face to a great many people we wish to have as allies. We are trying to make allies of our colleagues in Iraq and Afghanistan and this is not helpful."

He also added, "This is unhelpful to the American fighting men and women and counter to the image we wish to portray in Afghanistan and Iraq."

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