No Better Friend
Barack Obama wasn't the first president to reach out to moderate Muslims.
11:00 PM, Feb 9, 2009 • By ALAN W. DOWD
HIS HAGIOGRAPHERS WILL ALWAYS think otherwise, but what President Barack Obama said about America's relationship with the Islamic world during his interview with al Arabiya--namely, that "Americans are not your enemy"--only restated what American presidents have been saying in word and deed for almost 20 years now.
Obama's immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, was often caricatured, especially in the Islamic world, as a crusading cowboy and enemy of Islam. Perception is important in this media-saturated age, to be sure, but facts are stubborn things.
It pays to recall that it was Bush who declared in 2003, "It is presumptuous and insulting to suggest that a whole region of the world--or the one-fifth of humanity that is Muslim--is somehow untouched by the most basic aspirations of life."
Moreover, it was during the controversial and consequential Bush years that the U.S. military liberated Afghanistan from the medieval Taliban and Iraq from Saddam Hussein's torture chambers. America continues to stand with these troubled lands as they convalesce. As Fouad Ajami writes in his poignant history of the U.S. intervention in Iraq, The Foreigner's Gift, "We know that the Iraqis did not walk alone" in their hobbled march from tyranny to freedom.
Backed by the muscle of the U.S. military, American relief agencies have built or renovated 640 health clinics, 600 schools, and 4,000 miles of roads to connect the fragmented country of Afghanistan. Some five million Afghan children are now in school--and about 1.8 million of them are girls. All the while, America's ambidextrous troops continue to fight those who would take Afghanistan backwards to a time of public torture, fanaticism and terror.
That brings us to the presidency of George H.W. Bush. After a U.S.-led coalition ejected Iraq's army from Kuwait, U.S. troops rescued millions of Iraqi Kurds from starvation and brutalization at Saddam's hands. U.S. forces then stayed in Saudi Arabia to protect the kingdom from Saddam's vengeance.
Of course, even America's helping hand was considered an affront. Osama bin Laden's pre-9/11 fatwas against America condemned the "occupation of the land of the two Holy Places" and vowed a global guerilla war "to expel the occupying enemy." One of the early fronts of bin Laden's war was Mogadishu, where his men trained those who killed American personnel during the mercy mission in 1992-94.