By Rachel Motte (writing for The New Ledger)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced to reporters on Friday that she had an “excellent meeting” with Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin at the State Department. When she told Muhyiddin that Malaysia is “a model nation” that might serve as an example to other developing nations, she underscored a very recent — and revealing — shift in American official perception of that country and its government.
Clinton’s last meeting with Malaysian officials late last year, conveyed substantively less enthusiasm for the Southeast Asian nation, at least in the eyes of veteran Malaysia watchers. Although she spoke enthusiastically about the future of U.S.-Malaysia engagement, her carefully choreographed telephone conversation with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim sent a message that America’s sympathies were not entirely with the elected government of Prime Minister Najib Razak.
How things have changed in just four months!
Now, the Secretary of State’s tone is markedly different — and far more positive toward the Malaysian leadership. She told Muhyiddin that Malaysia stands as an important example to other nations because it is “democratic, effectively governed, and economically sound.”
Clinton implicitly acknowledged that Malaysian democracy has come a long way under the current government — and, barring a change in leadership, that it will continue to improve. This, combined with Malaysia’s strong financial outlook and its role as a model for Islamic democracy, makes the nation an attractive partner for the United States. Clinton and Muhyiddin went on to discuss the development of a Peace Corps program that would enable Malaysian teachers and schoolchildren to learn English from visiting American students — an initiative Prime Minister Najib suggested to President Obama during their meeting at the ASEAN Summit in New York City last autumn — and agreed that such a program would benefit both nations. They also discussed the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral free trade agreement which Muhyiddin expects will be completed by the end of the year.
Favorable words from the U.S. Secretary of State can go a long way toward boosting one’s political standing in Malaysia. So it is good to see Hillary Clinton finally realizing who are the good guys and the bad guys in Malaysia.
When Anwar Ibrahim was a recipient of favorable rhetoric from Hillary Clinton, his supporters were quick to capitalize on the attention. Though Clinton cancelled a face-to-face meeting with Anwar at the last minute during her Malaysian tour this past autumn, opting instead to speak with him by phone, she stated then that the U.S. would continue to advocate for him with Malaysian officials.
Anwar’s amply documented anti-Semitic rhetoric and ties to shady organizations that are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and have been investigated by US authorities for alleged terror-finance ties to Al Qaeda, made this a truly puzzling admission.
So what happened to change Clinton’s mind about him? In a word, the American Secretary of State seems to have now found out just who Anwar is.
Anwar’s own statements make it obvious that, were he to become Prime Minister, we should expect him to continue to encourage the resurgent anti-Semitism he has already led in Malaysia for narrow, cynical, and opportunistic reasons. An Anwar-led administration would likely mark the end of Malaysia’s relatively stable religious diversity, and the end of Malaysia’s status as the “model nation” Clinton praised. In fact the truth is that if Anwar ever came to power, it could create a positively dangerous situation – for Malaysia.
By contrast, American policymakers have found an increasing amount to like in the policies of Prime Minister Najib. His call for a “Global Movement of Moderates” at the US-ASEAN summit in New York City last fall was well received in D.C. Najib’s level of public commitment to religious moderation is not always easy to find in the Muslim world, and this puts him in a unique position to benefit both the U.S. and other Muslim-majority nations. As Muhyiddin pointed out,
“Our role is much appreciated because it can help meet our aspirations and theirs… Although Malaysia is a small country, we can see that the message from the Prime Minister (for closer relations) has reached the American administration and this can help in the development of our country.”
Anwar, on the other hand, is an Islamist of the most dangerous sort. His long-time involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood through its American front organization, the International Institute of Islamic Thought, the Herndon, Virginia organization that since 2002 has been investigated by the FBI, IRS and US intelligence agencies for alleged financial assistance to Al Qaeda, now gives smart U.S. policymakers increasing pause. So too do his other terror finance ties and his relationship with the radical Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Islamist cleric who was a major voice in the past decade to speak openly in favor of suicide bombing.
Hillary Clinton has now begun to understand the real face of Anwar Ibrahim, and the real ally the world of moderates has in Najib Razak.
Clinton’s meeting last week with Muhyiddin and his colleagues signaled a new support for Malaysia’s current administration and its policies. It also signified a newfound wariness of Malaysia’s opposition leader. This is now crystal clear.
Observers of Malaysia and its relationship with the United States may be heartened that the Secretary of State is turning away from past attempts at even-handedness between two unequal sides — and toward a perception of Malaysia that is refreshingly reality-based.
On Malaysia, Hillary Clinton seems to be coming around, to the truth.