Is the U.S. military proselytizing in Afghanistan?

The U.S. military today denied the allegation made in this Al Jazeera piece that evangelical chaplains are urging U.S. toops in Afghanistan to protelytize for Christianity:

The reporting here does seem a little dodgy. The piece implies that this line from a U.S chaplain's sermon is a violation of U.S. policy:

"The special forces guys - they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down."

But it's not at all clear that this refers to converting Afghans and this seems like a line that one could hear in any evangelical sermon in the United States. None of the officers "caught on camera" in the segment ever actually instruct troops to proselytize, in fact the only discussion of the practice is about how it's against military rules. 

As for the bibles in Dari and Pashto, the conversations in the video actually seem to better support the military's explanation that a soldier had "showed them to the group and the chaplain explained that he cannot distribute them."

Afghanistan's former prime minister has called for an investigation after seeing the segment. This is a serious issue and one that has gotten the military into trouble before. But without more evidence, this particular case seems like a manufactured controversy.


Did the Mexican state prove itself in the swine flu response?

Tyler Cowen looks for a silver lining for Mexico in the swine flu:

Once the national government discovered what is going on, they acted decisively and without undue panic.  There has been very little denial, a common feature in the early stages of health crises (how long was it until the U.S. government acknowledged AIDS?).  No one is treating the Mexican federal government like a banana republic or a basket case or thinking that the Canadian government would have done so much better.

Am I wrong?  Could this episode in the longer run bring Mexico closer to the community of developed nations?  Might Mexicans now be more likely to self-identify with a government that is at least partially competent?

Most Mexicans seem to agree. Over 70 percent give Felipe Calderon's government high marks for its handling of the crisis. 

Thanks to Mexico's raging drug violence, there's been a growing meme in the U.S. media -- including this magazine -- that the country was teetering on the brink of anarchy. The Obama administration even chose an expert on state failure as its ambassador to the country. The Calderon administration's decisive response to swine flu at least complicates this notion.

Compare, for instance, Mexico's fast and seemingly effective handling of swine flu to China's disastrous initial denial of the 2003 SARS outbreak and ask which one looks more like a failed state.  

Mexico's problems haven't gone away. This is still a country where 11,000 public servants have been sanctioned for corruption in the last three years and more people have been killed in drug violence than all the U.S. troops killed in Iraq. There are also new fears that Calderon will use the flu crisis to consolidate power. 

However, I think it's safe to say that more than a few governments around the world would have collapsed or reverted to dictatorship given the horrendous few months that Mexico has had on the economic, crime, and public health fronts. Mexico, on the other hand, is gearing up for what promises to be a lively and close-fought midterm election.

It shouldn't be shocking that stable and functioning states can sometimes respond to crises in ways that seem hopelessly inept (Just ask anyone in New Orleans) or that weak and corrupt ones can provide some public services quite well. Where Mexico falls on this spectrum is certainly open for debate, but the fundamental strength of the country's political institutions are stronger than they're often given credit for.