Think Tank's Ideas Shifted As Malaysia Ties Grew (

On Malaysia:

You probably saw this link on the Sage. He said of it:

EITHER THIS IS A DREADFUL HIT PIECE, or the Heritage Foundation has some explaining to do. Or perhaps Heritage's shift in attitude toward Malaysia had something to do with 9/11, which Edsall allows for.
The piece itself raises charges, essentially, that Heritage's newfound respect for the Malaysian government is tied to contributions from Malaysia.
Heritage's new, pro-Malaysian outlook emerged at the same time [i.e., summer 2001] a Hong Kong consulting firm co-founded by Edwin J. Feulner, Heritage's president, began representing Malaysian business interests.
There may be a connection, but there is a good explanation apart from payoffs. I've not been offered a dime from Malaysia (or anyone else), but my own opinion of the place has been on the improve for quite a while.

The context that is missing from the article is this: Mahathir Mohammed, who had been the ruler of the place for more than twenty years, stepped down in 2003. Under his rule, Malaysia had been anti-Western, largely closed and inward looking. Mahathir was strongly anti-US and anti-Israeli, the latter spilling over into genuine antisemitism on occasion. As soon as he appeared to be making moves to retire -- and especially since his actual retirement -- Malaysia began looking better.

In addition, during the late 1990s he was blamed by some for causing the Asian financial crisis -- a crisis that has vanished from both the mind and the market now. Still, this is another reason that an analyst in 1998 would have been critical of his leadership, whereas a more recent analysis would have to take into account the recovery and relative prosperity that has arisen in the wake of the crisis.

How much better are things in Malaysia now? Consider this profile, which was written in about 2000 to judge from its content:
This now leaves Malaysia in the hands of a 72-year-old, who underwent a quintuple heart bypass operation in 1989, has no successor, and is embarking on an economic regimen that flies in the face of free market principles. After 17 years in office and already South-east Asia's longest-serving leader, Dr Mahathir Mohamad shows no signs of stepping down.

The Asian financial crisis - which deposed President Suharto of Indonesia, led to changes of government elsewhere, and plunged Malaysia into its deepest recession - has only consolidated his grip on power.

Pre-empting any challenge to his leadership, he has sacked his deputy and heir apparent, Anwar Ibrahim, and taken control of the Finance Ministry in order to do battle with speculators whom he blames for Malaysia's current economic woes.

Shunning IMF help as part of a neo-colonial plot that serves Western interests, he has implemented controversial currency controls that in effect isolate Malaysia from the global economy, which, in the past decade has fuelled its growth.
Well, Mahathir did step down. Malaysia's isolationism is much lessened (indeed, Malaysia and Australia are discussing a free trade area), and that of it which remains is broadly beneficial to the United States' policies in the region -- for example, because they do not want the US navy patrolling the Malacca Strait, Malaysia is a leading partner in local efforts to do so. These efforts have been only somewhat successful, but they've been successful enough to relieve strain on the US Navy.

Meanwhile, the new leader of Malaysia has abandoned the firey rhetoric of his predecessor. Abdullah Badawi's favorite subject is the need for "Civilizational," that is to say moderate, Islam. He has spoken on the need for reform in Pakistan, at the OIC, and has visited the United States and President Bush. He is still anti-American, broadly speaking -- he would very much like it if he never saw another uniformed member of the American Federal government. However, I would say that his desire not to be interefered with by the American Federal government isn't greater than that of many Southerners I've known, and as I mentioned above, he's willing to put his money where his mouth is. Rather than scowling and firing warning shots at us, his chosen method for keeping us out is to make sure our interests are protected. That way, we don't feel the need to come in.

Malaysia, to me, looks like a prime example of a potential "sub-regional partner." There are still some issues to iron out (as these articles will give you a sense), but there's a lot of reason to hope.

All that is only to say that Heritage and I are on the same page, this time. Nobody had to pay me to think that way.

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