- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 3, 2006

COPENHAGEN — James P. Cain, the U.S. ambassador to Denmark, recalls that when President Bush sent him here in mid-2005, one of his prime mandates was to reach out to the country’s moderate Muslims and promote a dialogue of civilizations.

“It turned out to be pretty prophetic,” he said in an interview.

The career diplomat said he recalled being uneasy when the caricatures of the prophet Muhammad first appeared in a Danish newspaper last fall, saying the effect of the cartoon imagery on Muslim sensibilities may have been underestimated in the thoroughly secular Danish culture.

“I think we in the United States have had more experience based on religious or ethnic grounds to perceived slights,” Mr. Cain said. “We have certain taboos of our own that we have learned to respect.”

But when violence targeting Danish diplomatic missions around the world erupted at the end of January, the U.S. government quickly rallied to the side of a staunch ally. Mr. Cain said U.S. missions in about two dozen countries across the Muslim world offered shelter and security to the beleaguered Danish missions.

In a masterstroke of timing, Mr. Bush called Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen just minutes before he was to appear before the international press here at the very height of the rioting in early February, offering U.S. aid and support.

“Many Danes were very, very worried at the time that they were alone and isolated in the crisis,” Mr. Cain said, “so our timing could not have been more sublime.”

The cartoons may have provided the spark, but Mr. Cain said U.S. officials quickly concluded that larger, more sinister forces were at work in the anti-Danish riots around the world.

“When the violence began, it did become obvious to us and to the Danes that these were more than spontaneous uprisings,” he said. “The violence was being allowed, even encouraged, in places like Syria and Iran.”

Mr. Cain said Denmark “had become a very attractive and convenient target for extremists trying to drive a wedge between Europe and America, and we worked very hard to prevent that from happening.”

Stephen Brugger, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Denmark, was another American with a front-row seat for the global furor.

“This is a small country that has been trading and cooperating with foreign economies for centuries,” said Mr. Brugger, an architect by training who has been here for more than two decades. “The idea that it would be little Denmark that would be singled out as this uniquely evil nation was just an unbelievable shock to people here.”

Mr. Brugger said Denmark’s international business reputation had been harmed in the short run, but he predicted the long-term effects would be minor. “Danish industry and the economy as a whole are very resilient, the people are smart, and the products are good,” he said.

There “was no question the country’s reputation has suffered,” Mr. Cain said, and the U.S. Embassy redoubled efforts to reach out to Danish Muslims. He said the cartoon experience eventually could enhance bilateral ties.

“Denmark has just gone through something we in the United States are used to experiencing,” he said. “They got hit very hard, and when you’re attacked a lot, it’s nice to know you have some friends out there.

“Many Americans may not have understood all the nuances of the cartoon debate, but they did see an ally being attacked in just the way America often has been,” he added.

There’s one more small sign that U.S.-Danish relations remain on course. When Mr. Rasmussen travels to Washington later this week for a meeting with Mr. Bush, the two leaders and their wives will gather for the first time at Mr. Bush’s presidential retreat at Camp David.

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