- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2003

President Bush is in Asia for an eight-day tour of six nations: Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Australia. Given the shaky security situation across the region, the president’s visit sends a strong message that America will not be frightened into taking a less prominent role in the world.

Today, Mr. Bush is in the Philippines to tout his anti-terror partnership with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. During her state visit to Washington in May, the Philippines was awarded $340 million in military and economic aid. Spokesmen for Mrs. Arroyo have stated that she wants more, and would like to speed up the delivery of promised helicopters, gunboats and 30,000 M16 assault rifles. With the Philippine military weakened by a July coup attempt, supplies alone are unlikely to gain the desired victory against local terrorists. Our Southeast Asian ally would make a lot more progress than they have to date if American troops were given a more active role in the field.

In neighboring Indonesia, Mr. Bush will meet with a rejuvenated President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Before leaving for Asia, Mr. Bush announced that he was ready to renew military aid to the Indonesian armed forces. This is a positive development, as the military has a powerful secular influence in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. It also might help Mrs. Megawati keep her job. There are rumblings in Jakarta that the generals don’t think their president has been tough enough on internal dissent and are considering their own candidate in next year’s election. The prestige of re-establishing military-to-military contact with the United States could assuage the brass’ discontent with their commander in chief.

One of the trickier tests of President Bush’s diplomatic skills will be how he handles a meeting with retiring Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Two days ago, at an Organization of the Islamic Conference meeting, Mr. Mahathir called worldwide Muslims to unite to fight for a “final victory” against the Jews. Shockingly, he added, “The Europeans killed 6 million out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule the world by proxy … 1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews.”

Most alarming is how enthusiastically this anti-Semitic call to arms was received by even moderate, pro-American Muslim leaders. Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who hosts the largest U.S. military installation in the Middle East, cheered. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was installed in office by and remains in power because of U.S. forces, enthused, “It is great to hear Prime Minister Mahathir speak so eloquently on the problems of the ummah [Muslim community] and ways to remedy them.” President Bush’s high profile in Asia provides the appropriate platform to admonish this dangerous attitude.

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