- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

The American press might be taking pot shots at President Bush and his leadership in Iraq, but his stature as a world leader is at its highest point since well before the Iraq war. With three days left on his Asian tour, Mr. Bush has ventured into some of the most volatile spots on earth and come out without a scratch. This positive reception across the Pacific strengthens the president for his return to political battles in Washington.

Although routinely overshadowed by the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Southeast Asia is one of the most dangerous sources of global terrorism. Al Qaeda networks operate schools and training camps and recruit heavily in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia, and are active in Singapore. The two most-deadly terrorist attacks since the September 11 strikes on Washington and New York were on Indonesian soil, and arrests of terror ringleaders occur regularly in these countries. Mr. Bush’s trip highlights the solid working relationships he has developed with key leaders in the war on terror.

During his brief stop Saturday in the Philippines, Mr. Bush successfully made the case for a united front against terror. (A planned opposition walkout during Mr. Bush’s address to the Philippine Congress fizzled.) A poll coming out today in the Philippine Star newspaper reveals that 53 percent of Filipinos trust the U.S. president, while only 21 percent do not. More to the point, while 86 percent mentioned that American troops had not found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a full 68 percent of Filipinos said “the United States must not end its occupation of Iraq until a stable government is established there.” Those numbers would be good news anywhere, including here at home. But the fact that they come from a former U.S. colony often at odds with Washington policy shows the extent to which Asian opinion is behind U.S. leadership at the moment.

The rest of the tour has been equally successful so far. It was a major coup for the White House to get terror on the agenda for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok. This move was resisted last year, a turnaround that hints to the growing admission of the danger posed to the region by Islamic radicalism. Jihad is no longer seen as America’s problem alone. Also in Bangkok, Mr. Bush announced on Sunday that Thailand was being designated a major non-NATO ally, the highest status a non-NATO country can receive and only the second nation in South Asia to be so recognized.

The F-15 fighters that flied along Air Force One’s wings on entry into Manila underscored the personal danger this trip posed to the president. On the previous day, Mr. Bush’s first in the region, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced that Japan would deploy military transport planes and non-combat troops to Iraq and contribute $1.5 billion to the reconstruction effort. (Tokyo is expected to announce $5 billion more in assistance this week.) It was a fitting beginning to a tour that has strengthened America’s ties with its allies in Asia.

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