NASA administrator Charles Bolden must have felt like Astronaut Frank Poole in the cult classic, "Space Odyssey: 2001." In that film, the menacing computer HAL 9000 cut Poole’s tether and let him drift off into space.
In this case, it was President Obama’s press spokesman Robert Gibbs who, on Tuesday, cut off the former Marine Corps Major General. Gibbs told reporters the general was “wrong” to say that reaching out to the Muslim world was a top priority for the National Aviation and Space Administration (NASA) under the Obama administration.
When he was in Egypt for the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s June 4 speech at Cairo University speech, Gen. Bolden told Al Jazeera that his marching orders from his boss included outreach to the Muslim world as “foremost” among his goals. The general told the Arab language television network about his new mission before he informed Congress.
When asked by reporters if Gen. Bolden “misspoke,” Gibbs said: “I think so.”
I don’t think so. Gen. Bolden’s reputation, as a career military officer, as a fearless astronaut, argues for taking his word over an increasingly embattled administration’s chief of spin control.
I don’t agree with Gen. Bolden’s orders. I don’t think NASA should be performing a “feel good about themselves” mission to Muslims on our dime. And I don’t think Mr. Obama can radically change NASA’s mission without going to Congress first.
But I do not doubt that Gen. Bolden was truthfully reporting what he had been ordered to do. Like the seasoned professional he is, Gen. Bolden saluted smartly and set about executing his orders from his civilian chief. Byron York, chief political correspondent of the Washington Examiner. His columns on NASA’s new “foremost” mission priority have broken the story and led the news media in what ought to be major news.
Oddly, it isn’t. Aside from the Examiner, Fox News, and some conservative websites, the most of the media isn’t touching this story. On Tuesday, The Washington Post—finally—ran a 211-word story from Reuters—buried on page A13.
To its credit, The Orlando Sentinel did pick up on this story. But ABC, CBS, NBC, and The New York Times seem to have yawned their way through this story. Byron York should not hold his breath waiting for his Pulitzer Prize.
Gen. Bolden spoke to The Sentinel about the country of Indonesia, the president’s boyhood home. “We really like Indonesia because the State Department, the Department of Education [and] other agencies in the U.S. are reaching out to Indonesia as the largest Muslim nation in the world. We would love to establish partners there.”
To do what, exactly? To monitor Indonesia’s citizens’ religion? The 275 million people in this land of a thousand islands are required to carry ID cards that list their religion. If you are found to be practicing a religion other than the one listed on your ID care, you can be prosecuted under the country’s blasphemy laws. With 88% of Indonesians listed as Muslims, you can imagine against whom these blasphemy laws are enforced.
Indonesia has very few Jews. Maybe that’s fortunate for the Jews, since “Shoot the Jews” is a video game widely distributed by a recognized Indonesian political party. Political groups agitating for Shari’ah law—the law they already have in Saudi Arabia—are gaining strength in Indonesia.
We used to be able to put foreign astronauts into orbit on American space shuttles. Now, however, Gen. Bolden reports NASA cannot even achieve low-earth orbit without help from others. To whom might we turn? The Russians? The Chinese?
The White House is reeling. It’s pro-Muslim, anti-Israel policies have caused traditional supporters of the Democrats to cry out in pain. We’ve yet to see any positive response from Muslim-majority states to the president’s Cairo University speech last year.
Instead, we’ve seen Iran racing to develop an atomic bomb and Turkey—our 60-year ally in NATO—lurching toward Islamism. It was Turkey that sponsored the Hamas relief ships that tried to run Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
Now, on top of everything else, we have Robert Gibbs essentially questioning Gen. Bolden’s word. There is a widening credibility gap in Washington, but it’s not Gen. Bolden’s.
It would have been far better for Robert Gibbs, or the president himself, to man up and admit that the orders given to NASA first require congressional approval. That approval is not likely to come any time soon.
Ken Blackwell is a senior fellow with the Family Research Council and the American Civil Rights Union.
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Ken Blackwell, a director of the Coalition for Mortgage Security, is a former undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a former Ohio state treasurer, and former mayor of Cincinnati.