Why Is Bush Afraid of Franklin Graham?

If Bush wants to convince the world this isn't a war against Islam, he needs to tell the Christian leader to stay out of Iraq

President Bush and his aides have been willing to criticize just about anyone in order to protect America's national interest. They've whacked the United Nations, the French, the Syrians, the French some more, all of Old Europe and even Bush's pal Vladimir Putin. So why is President Bush hesitant to criticize a politically-influential American preacher named Franklin Graham?



Graham, the son of Billy Graham and a leading evangelical figure in his own right,

last week told Beliefnet

that workers from his charitable group, Samaritan's Purse, were "poised and ready" to enter Iraq after the war to help with humanitarian aid.

That's infuriated Muslim leaders because: First, Graham has been one of the most strident critics of Islam, calling it a "very evil and wicked religion." Second, he made it clear that while converting Muslims wasn't the goal, "I believe as we work, God will always give us opportunities to tell others about his Son.We are there to reach out to love them and to save them, and as a Christian I do this in the name of Jesus Christ." Third, he's closely associated with President Bush, having delivered the invocation at the inauguration.

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Yet Tuesday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said he'd have no comment on Graham's activities, and referred questions to the State Department. A State Department spokesman referred calls to the Agency for International Development, which coordinates humanitarian aid. "What private charitable organizations choose to do without U.S. government funding is ultimately their decision," said Ellen Yount, an AID spokeswoman. "How could the U.S. government control that? We can't just say to an organization, 'you can or cannot do something,' if we don't fund them. Imagine what the United States Congress would say to us."

Hopefully, Congress would say: Secretary Powell, President Bush, pick up the phone and tell Graham that although his intentions may be noble, he's now interfering with American foreign policy.

The stakes could not be higher. The administration is struggling unsuccessfully to convince the world that this isn't a "crusade" against Islam. Suicide bombers, eager to be part of the new Holy War, are reportedly entering Iraq. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is warning that the U.S. posture will create "a hundred Bin Ladens."

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Steven Waldman
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