IF FEISAL ABDUL RAUF WAS FINE BEFORE, HE’S FINE NOW…. New York imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, best known as the man who hopes to build the Cordoba House in lower Manhattan, has been asked by the State Department to travel to the Middle East to assist with the government’s diplomatic agenda in the region. Specifically, Rauf would talk about the ways in which Muslim Americans enjoy the same rights and respect that other Americans enjoy.

Congressional Republicans seem to be going out of their way to prove a point about undermining these American ideals.

“It is unacceptable that US taxpayers are being forced to fund Feisal Abdul Rauf’s trip to the Middle East,” say Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) of Florida and Peter King (R) of New York in a statement issued Tuesday. “This radical is a terrible choice to be one of the faces or our country overseas. The USA should be using public diplomacy programs to combat extremism,” they add, “not to endorse it.”

“This radical”? Adam Serwer notes the key detail here: the State Department has “a long-term relationship” with Rauf — which included the Bush administration sending him on a similar tour.

Oddly, Republicans didn’t complain when the Bush/Cheney State Department partnered with “this radical” to help with our diplomatic efforts in the Middle East. This isn’t complicated — if Bush considered Feisal Abdul Rauf a valuable American voice and representative, there’s no reason for the GOP to freak out now.

I’m reminded again of Jeffrey Goldberg’s item from last week: “I know Feisal Abdul Rauf; I’ve spoken with him at a public discussion at the 96th street mosque in New York about interfaith cooperation. He represents what Bin Laden fears most: a Muslim who believes that it is possible to remain true to the values of Islam and, at the same time, to be a loyal citizen of a Western, non-Muslim country.”

The sooner Republicans stop looking at a moderate imam, committed to fighting radicalism, as an enemy, the sooner they’ll stop inadvertently helping the goals of terrorists.

It’d be awfully nice if mainstream American imams could go to the Middle East with a positive message about freedom and respect in the U.S., and not have to struggle to make excuses for the right.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.