- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 21, 2002

People who live in Third World countries might have a better view of the United States if Americans followed Osama bin Laden's example of being "a good neighbor so people there have a different vision of us," said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat.
She said bin Laden is popular in some parts of the world because he spent years building good will in poor nations by helping pay for schools, roads and day care facilities.
Those comments were made during a visit Wednesday to a high school in Vancouver, Wash., where she said she challenged students to consider alternatives to war. Last October, Mrs. Murray voted against giving President Bush authority to use military force in confronting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Mrs. Murray's comments drew fire from state Republicans, who called on the senator to retract and apologize for her comments.
"It is absolutely outrageous and despicable to imply that the American government should learn a lesson from the madman who murdered thousands of American citizens," said Chris Vance, chairman of the Washington state Republican Party.
Mr. Vance said Mrs. Murray was wrong when she stated that bin Laden built infrastructure in impoverished countries.
"He ran terrorist camps in Afghanistan that trained the killers who carried out the [September 11] monstrosities. It is the American government and the American people who lead the world in helping people of impoverished countries, not murderers like bin Laden," he said.
Mrs. Murray told students one of the reasons bin Laden is so popular in poor nations is because he and his supporters spent years helping poor people by paying for schools and other infrastructure.
"We've got to ask, why is this man so popular around the world?" Mrs. Murray told the students, according to the Columbian, a daily newspaper. "Why are people so supportive of him in many countries that are riddled with poverty?"
"He's been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful," Mrs. Murray said.
"We haven't done that. How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that, rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?"
Mrs. Murray said building infrastructure in poor nations would "cost a lot of money, and we have schools here and health care facilities here that are really hurting."
But "war is expensive, too," she told students. "Your generation ought to be thinking about whether we should be better neighbors out in other countries so that they have a different vision of us. It is a debate I think we ought to have."
Yesterday Mrs. Murray's office issued a statement in response to her critics.
"Having a challenging and thoughtful discussion about America's future reflects the best values of a free democracy," the statement read. "To sensationalize and distort in an attempt to divide is not.
"Osama bin Laden is an evil terrorist, who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans. Bringing him to justice, dismantling his terrorist network and protecting our nation from further attacks must continue to be our government's highest priorities, and I continue to vigorously support those efforts in the Senate.
"While we continue to search every corner of the globe to destroy Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, should we also consider the longer-term issue of what else can be done to improve relations with all nations, including the Arab world?" the statement reads. "How else can we bring America's values to those who do not understand us?"
Michael Swetnam, a specialist on terrorism and chairman of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, said Mrs. Murray's comments about bin Laden were on the mark.
"That's kind of a generalization, but mostly accurate," said Mr. Swetnam, who also co-wrote a book profiling bin Laden and al Qaeda.
Since 1988, bin Laden, who is believed to be the mastermind behind the terrorist attacks, has been on a mission to build schools, roads, and even homes for widows of those killed in the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Mr. Swetnam said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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