Most obituaries of Muhammed Ali are going to mention his many victories in the ring and his tendency toward braggadocio that was so pronounced as to make Donald Trump seem the soul of humility by comparison. Most will also mention his battle not to be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War in the 1960s (“No Viet Cong ever called me an N-----“) However, Ali’s greatest victory was in Iraq, during the runup to the first Gulf War.

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, he took thousands of foreigners as hostages, intending to use them as human shields in the event the world community went to war with him. By November of that year, according to the account in the New York Post, 15 American men were still unwilling guests of Hussein, scattered about in buildings likely to be bombed in the event of war.

Ali arrived in Baghdad to bring the hostages out, being mobbed by autograph seekers everywhere he went, publicly praying in mosques, and generally doing what he did best besides knocking people out in the ring, garnering publicity.

The George H. W. Bush White House was irritated at what it saw as an exercise in self-aggrandizement. Nevertheless, despite having run out of his Parkinson’s medication. Ali was granted an audience with Saddam Hussein. Saddam, no slouch where it came to self-regard, spent most of the time boasting about how well he was treating the hostages. However, the Iraqi dictator, his point having been made, decided that the boxing great and America’s most famous Muslim would not return home empty handed.

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All 15 Americans returned to America with Ali that early December. A month later, Operation Desert Storm began with the bombing campaign. Muhammed Ali had, in effect, won the first victory of the Gulf War.

It should be noted that the elder Bush’s irritation with Ali for his “loose cannon diplomacy” did not extend to the younger Bush. Muhammed Ali received the Medal of Freedom from President George W.

Bush in 2005 as well as a warm embrace. Thus, the once controversial boxer and activist became a universally beloved figure. He died on June 3, 2016, surrounded by his family. Rest in peace.

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