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America's presence in Kosovo could serve as a guide in Iraq



Published: Tue, February 11, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Amid the vitriolic attacks on America from Osama bin Laden, the world's leading terrorist, and other Muslim extremists who have declared a holy war against this country, comes an Associated Press story from Kosovo that is at once heartening and encouraging.

The following comment from Dr. Besnik Bardhi, who runs a clinic in the southwestern city of Djakovica, caused us to take a close look at the dispatch from AP Writer William L. Kole: "If there is a God, his missionaries on Earth are Americans."

Bardhi is part of the Muslim majority that views the United States as a savior.

"When I see scenes on television of people elsewhere burning American flags, I'm deeply hurt," the doctor tells the reporter.

Why such outpouring of affection for the United States? Because we are credited with ending the 1998-99 war in Kosovo and saving the lives of thousands of Muslim ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province. Former Serb President Slobodan Milosevic is now standing trial on 66 counts of war crimes before a United Nations tribunal. He is accused of directing rebel Serb troops responsible for atrocities in Croatia. He is conducting his own defense.

The American flags that adorn peasants' homes, a six-story-high poster of former President Clinton that looks down on Bill Clinton Boulevard, the capital's main drag, and a new compound being built by President Ibrahim Rugova he calls the White House are illustrations of the Muslim population's deep regard for our country.

High esteem

And it suggests that while bin Laden and his Al-Qaida terrorist network may claim to be acting on behalf of Muslims around the world when they kill 3,000 innocent people on America's mainland, the reality is that Americans are held in high esteem by many in the Arab world.

As Reno Harnish, the top U.S. official in Kosovo, puts it, "I've never been received so well. It's kind of daunting. The Americans have an unusually strong moral authority in Kosovo. The leadership is quite eager to hear the U.S. opinion on things. I think they want the United States to continue to play a role in their lives."

Harnish is a veteran diplomat who has served in Egypt, Nigeria and other countries.

To be sure, there are critics of American policy in that part of the world, but it is the support of the Muslim population that is instructive. As war with Iraq looms, the issue of what comes after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is toppled is being debated in Washington.

The situation in Kosovo makes it clear that it isn't enough to beat a ruthless, murderous ruler into submission. The population must have a sense of hope and must believe that the Americans are there to help them rebuild their lives and their country.

Because of Saddam's iron-fisted rule, it is difficult to tell how the Iraqi people would react to a change in regime, but once they taste freedom, the task of winning their hearts and minds should be made a lot easier.




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