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Will The Heritage Foundation Confront AIPAC And The Effort To Discredit Malaysia And Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad?

We don't believe too much in coincidence where geopolitical image makeovers, for good or bad, are concerned. And as a result, we immediately raised eyebrows when we first learned of reports regarding a Newsweek feature claiming a Malaysian origin for the September 11th terrorist attacks. We really stood at attention when The Washington Post, a few days later ran a story stating the same theory, with the notable addition being that the director of the FBI, Robert S. Mueller III, was now the person on the point advancing the case against Malaysia as the home of Al-Qaeda operatives and a growing hotbed of terrorist planning and organizing. This is serious stuff.

All the more serious, and potentially revealing, when we placed this sudden injection of Malaysia, as villain, into the "war on terrorism" debate, juxtaposed to the commencement of a trip to the U.S., this week, by Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Interestingly, Prime Minister Mahathir and Malaysia, with the full encouragement of some prominent members of the U.S. corporate community, has enlisted the help of the Heritage Foundation and some of America's leading conservative intellectuals to help clean up his and Malaysia's image, in the West. From what we have learned, the effort has moved along remarkably well and the goal of bringing Malaysia back into the good graces of the United States of America is on pace, though not without its share of difficulties. This was before last week's "revelations".

Malaysia's guided steps back into the fold have been impressive, both in terms of their strength and speed. The breach in the relationship between the West and Malaysia was created in 1997 after the Asian currency crises which saw numerous currencies in Southeast Asia depreciate virtually overnight. Most will remember that it was Prime Minister Mahathir's advancing of a critique of the crisis, and particularly its impact in Malaysia, that caused image problems for the country and its brash leader. Publicly offering a view that insiders say was influenced by controversial American economist Lyndon Larouche, Mahathir angrily argued that it was a small group of currency traders and hedge fund managers, including George Soros, who caused the demise of the country's currency, the Malaysian ringgit. Reports also quoted Mahathir as stating that it was "Jewish bankers" who were responsible for the fall of Malaysia's economy, serving a far-reaching plan to prevent the rise of a progressive Muslim state in Southeast Asia.

Since that time, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has quietly lobbied members of the United States Congress against any efforts to strengthen political and economic ties between the U.S. and Malaysia. While the effort has been broad based and behind-the-scenes, significant pressure regarding Malaysia has been placed on the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, notably Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Cal.) and Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY.).

But at the same time, the Heritage Foundation has been wooed by leading members of America's corporate community to help polish the image of the multi-racial country, which for 10 straight years, before the 1997 crash, averaged 8% annual economic growth. The U.S. corporate community, in general, sees Malaysia as a fundamental ally and trusted partner. And in many ways, the corporate industrial community in this country, is miles ahead of other sectors of the U.S. economy in recognizing opportunities for economic partnership inside of Malaysia. However, in recent months, these corporate interests have been increasingly joined by a growing minority of firms in the financial sector who have recognized great potential for growth in Malaysia. As a prime example of that growing interest among the banking community in the Malaysian economy, today, Prime Minister Mahathir is scheduled to meet with Goldman Sachs and Solomon Smith Barney officials concerning future business opportunities. And the Prime Minister will be the keynote speaker at the Malaysian Investment Summit, jointly organized by Salomon Smith Barney, Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) and the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange.

More than a simple front for American industrial, technological, and financial interests in its Malaysia initiative, Heritage has been instrumental in advocating closer ties between the two countries on a variety of fronts. And the prestigious conservative think tank has spared no reasonable argument in its defense of its embrace of Malaysia, especially in light of the rapidly changing global environment.

Specifically speaking, since the September 11th World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, the conservative think tank has made the argument with eloquence and great force that Malaysia is an ally in the global fight against terrorism. It is difficult to argue with Heritage's position. Since September 11th, although done quietly to prevent discord at home, Malaysia has granted U.S. fighter jets and support aircraft airspace rights, allowing the U.S. to fly over the country on its way to conducting bombing raids in Afghanistan. U.S. naval ships have docked in Malaysian ports since Operation Enduring Freedom began. In addition, Malaysian military special forces units are currently training American military forces in guerilla warfare at Malaysia's jungle warfare center and allowing the U.S. to conduct its own preparatory exercises. And finally, Malaysia has been providing humanitarian aid to Afghan refugees, suffering as a result of the war.

Heritage's defense and engagement of Malaysia is multi-faceted and at times, has been represented as a byproduct of the foundation's core principles and values being in harmony with the vision outlined for Malaysia and United States relations by Prime Minister Mahathir. In essence, Heritage sees Malaysian principles, its vast economic potential, and its growing geopolitical importance as extraordinarily compatible with Heritage's vision of what is best for America.

But America's Jewish political establishment, led by AIPAC - whose sole purpose is to lobby on behalf of the relationship between Israel and the United States - does not share the Heritage Foundation's view of Malaysia. And now, AIPAC's low-key effort to turn U.S. lawmakers against laws and initiatives primarily aimed at strengthening and improving Malaysia's image, now meets a much more public, yet sophisticated and very well-coordinated effort by the Heritage Foundation to repair Prime Minister Mahathir's image. But the sudden and some say bizarre allegations against Malaysia, by two of the United States' most politically connected and respected news publications, places the Heritage Foundation at a fork in the road. Does it directly engage those U.S. lawmakers who are heavily under the influence of AIPAC and attempt to persuade them, through meetings with Prime Minister Mahathir and evidence from Malaysia, that the country's leader is not a pariah and that the country is not a cozy home to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network? Does it cut its losses where Malaysia is concerned and wash its hands of its ambitious effort? Or does the Heritage Foundation do what is so often done with civil rights groups and interest groups who shadow politicians, and "out" AIPAC, depicting the group as an obstructionist in efforts to improve relations between Malaysia and the United States. From what we have learned, the Heritage Foundation is not desirous of a showdown with the most powerful member of America's Jewish political establishment.

It is so peculiar to us how conservative intellectuals who are so bold, blunt and strident in confronting the political influence of groups like the NAACP, the ACLU and the Sierra Club are so shy, timid and tight-lipped when it comes to AIPAC.

If Heritage decides to defend its interest in Malaysia-U.S. relations, it may wish to consult with "America-First" advocate Pat Buchanan, who in a 1999 appearance on Meet The Press boldly told the show's host Tim Russert, before a nation-wide audience, that if he were elected President, "U.S. foreign policy would be made in the Oval Office and not at AIPAC." Confronting AIPAC's grip on U.S. foreign policy may not be what the Heritage Foundation had in mind when it accepted the task of working with Prime Minister Mahathir, but with the Malaysian leader in the United States of America at the same time that dubious reports are circulating in America's mainstream press alleging Malaysia's involvement in the events of September 11th, we can't think of a better time for somebody to take heart and publicly challenge one of the third rails of American politics - the disproportionate influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Cedric Muhammad

Monday, February 4, 2002

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