By Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.

Minaret of Freedom Institute


In last week's column we reviewed Bush's first cabinet appointments.  For Muslims it was a case of mixed signals.  In particular we saw the appointment of Colin Powell as Secretary of State as a step in the right direction after agony of Madelyn Albright's one-sided senior political staff, while the appointment of John Ashcroft as attorney general did not bode well for the civil liberties of Muslims in America.  Condoleeza Rice was a question mark.  Bush has made more appointments since then, and still the signals are mixed.


On the plus side Bush has appointed Mitch Daniels and Spencer Abraham, both Arab-Americans, as director of Office of Management and Budget and Secretary of Energy respectively.  While neither is Muslim, the fact is that even Christian Arabs are vilified in this country for similar ultimate reasons that Muslims are vilified and Bush's willingness to appoint two Arab-Americans in the face of that prejudice bodes well the relations of his administration with our community.  Further, Abraham established a good track record with Muslims during his brief tenure as U.S. Senator from Michigan.


Another plus is in the appointment of Rod Paige, hitherto Houston School Superintendent, as Secretary of Education.  Page is yet another African-American appointee to the cabinet, and has a strong record in favor of the types educational reform that would benefit the Muslim community.   Education was the one issue on which Bush had a significantly better position that Gore and this appointment suggests that intends to stand by that position.   Of course, it is the Congress and the Courts (and state legislatures), not the Secretary of Education, who determine whether or not alternative education will be allowed to flourish, but this appointment holds out the hope that when it comes time to appoint Supreme Court justices, Bush will appoint ones who are favorable more school choice.


I would argue that Tommy Thompson should also be considered a positive appointment.  Thompson was the pioneer in welfare reform and it was his record in Wisconsin that proved that it was possible to put an end to the cycle of dependency that channeled so many Americans to into a culture of poverty.  Although welfare reform has its opponents, largely from the bureaucrats and politicians who benefit from the existing system, many welfare recipients are more interested in getting jobs than handouts.  In any case, recognition that faith-based organizations are in a better position to deal with the deep needs of the poor that underlie their status than the impersonal bureaucratic state is a development Muslims should welcome. 


Gale Norton, the first woman ever appointed to the position of Secretary of the Interior may or may not be good choice.  She has been criticized by environmentalists as being in the mold of James Watt, Reagan's Interior Secretary.   There is no doubt that Norton has a string commitment to private property, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  On the contrary, it is private property that is most jealously protected by its owners.  It is well-established, for example that privately owned forested, even when harvested for wood, are better managed for their long term productivity than government owned forests.  Government owned lands, when harvested, have been subjected to such atrocious practices as clear-cutting, and when not harvested, have been subjected excessively  to problems like forest fires due to poor management.   If Norton will guide the Interior department into a new paradigm of trusteeship in which private property is one of the tools for protecting the environment, her appointment will be a good one.  If, on the other hand, she shares James Watt's millennial views from Christian fundamentalism, then we have cause to worry.  After all, why protect the environment if the world is going to end soon?


However, it is not because of such questions about Gale Norton that I say the signals are mixed.  It is because Bush's appointment of Donald Rumsfeld to the critical post of Secretary of Defense is a red flag.  While we cannot be certain that Rumsfeld will continue the hostile policies of past American administrations toward the Muslim world, it is a fact that this former cold warrior's appointment was greeted with glee by many conservatives precisely because they saw in it the hope that Rumsfeld's influence on the Bush administration would negate the influence of Powell.  Powell, as his record shows, has the cautious attitude towards military force that is characteristic of any good military officer.  A commander who knows that his own men's lives are at stake, if he is any good at all, will be prudent about the application of military force to solve problems.  Civilian commanders sometimes take a glorified view of war and play down the down side.  Behind Rumsfeld's benign concern with civil control over military authority lurks the specter of military decision driven by political considerations.  It is a fact with which Muslims must come to grips that the Zionists have been assiduously courting the cold-warrior types with the mantra that Islam has replaced the Soviet Union as the new threat to a free world.  Whether or not Rumsfeld will succumb to this Siren song has yet to be seen.  The fact that Rumsfeld was part of the political establishment that in the past has sacrificed both the democratic hopes of the Muslim world and the long-term interests of America for short-term stability and for the sake of the "special relationship with Israel" must be a source of concern not only to Muslim-Americans, but to all Americans who feel that America's foreign policy must be grounded in the long-term best interests of the American people.