… of Cyprus. During Thursday’s House Appropriations Committee hearing on the FY 2011 budget for the State Department, Representative Steve Israel (D-NY) expressed concern over Turkish behavior towards the State of Israel and took pains to refer to Turkey’s “illegal occupation” of Cyprus.
State Hillary Clinton reminded Rep. Israel that the recent diplomatic rift between Israel and Turkey was largely resolved several weeks ago, as well as the fact that Turkey has supported all recent negotiations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The Secretary used her testimony to highlight the fact that the Turkish Republic shares a border with Iran and has many mutual interests with the Islamic Republic, yet still actively opposes an Iranian nuclear weapon. Rep. Israel departed the Committee chamber shortly thereafter.
Congressmen Steven Rothman (D-NJ) and Ben Chandler (D-KY) delivered more commentary on Middle East politics when deviating from discussion on Iran. Rep. Rothman began his remarks with strong criticism of the Palestinian Authority, including a reference to an anti-Jewish sermon made by a radical Palestinian Imam on PA-controlled television. Rep. Rothman then questioned the Secretary as to whether or not she felt the PA would be an appropriate and willing partner for peace in future negotiations.
These remarks were followed by assertions by Rep. Chandler that the greatest enemy of the United States is Islamic fundamentalism. He pointed out that the Islamic world extends from the Philippines to Morocco, citing this not as an interesting fact but as a foreign policy dilemma. Chandler’s advice to the Secretary seemed to be essentially that Islamic fundamentalism needed to be combated from “country to country,” although he declined to elaborate on how this was to be done or what sort of budget needed to be appropriated for the task.
The policy discussion continued when Congressman Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, compared the current Iranian regime to Nazi Germany. He slammed the World Bank for providing Iran with funding for water projects, which he argued would be stolen by the government and used for illicit purposes. Rep. Kirk also expressed his deep concern for the safety of the Mujahideen-e Khalq (a group considered to be a terrorist organization in the United States) members in exile at Camp Ashraf in Iraq.
Both he and the Chair of the committee, Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY), advocated “crippling sanctions” on Iran. This sort of policy recalled the current blockade of the Gaza Strip, and the collective punishment of Gazans by the State of Israel. It is no coincidence that the Gaza blockade is subsidized by the very same House Appropriations Committee that seemed to be advocating collective punishment of the Iranian people.
Secretary of State Clinton provided each individual congressman with a response. She defended the Palestinian Authority by saying that she was familiar with the incident the congressman spoke of and that the PA almost immediately informed the United States of the radical nature of the televised Imam, and that his views were inconsistent with the Palestinian people. She also informed Rothman that the following Friday, sermons on religious understanding and tolerance were delivered in almost every mosque in the West Bank, as a response to the aforementioned Imam’s statements.
The Secretary also informed Rep. Chandler that the global Muslim community does not differ from the rest of the global community in their everyday goals and desires to live their lives and provide for their families, and she cited President Obama’s address to the Muslim world given in Cairo as central to the administrations approach in the Middle East and throughout the Islamic world.
Clinton even was so bold as to state that American policy is not even opposed to Islamic fundamentalism, as members of all religions are engaged in the peaceful practice of fundamentalist beliefs, and explicitly stated to the committee that the enemies of the United States were those who perverted Islam and used violence to advance their cause.
Secretary Clinton clarified that the MEK is indeed designated as a terrorist organization the United States. Despite that, the U.S. will advocate for the fair treatment of MEK members and will not forcibly relocate them to a country where their security is not ensured. Neither the Representative nor the Secretary made it clear why it is in the interest of the United States to make efforts guaranteeing the safety of a terrorist designated organization with a previous history of assassinating American officials.
In a hearing whose stated purpose was to scrutinize the State Department’s budget for 2011, it seems remarkable that so much discussion was devoted to Iran, and other issues to which allocations were not specifically made in the operational budget. Indeed, funding to American efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen were discussed, however they almost seemed to make up the smallest part of discussion at Thursday’s hearing.
Secretary Clinton at one point did mention the importance of peace between Israel and Palestine, but no monetary figures were discussed for this issue whatsoever, including Secretary Clinton’s promised $300 million in aid to Gaza. The Palestinian Authority was only mentioned again when one member of the committee denigrated the PA by citing remarks from the aforementioned radical imam, who had already been rejected by the Authority.
Secretary Clinton’s testimony gave reason to be optimistic about some areas of U.S.-Middle East policy, yet she also left much to be desired. Perhaps it will be more telling to observe Clinton’s actions outside of House chambers, when her real diplomacy is tested abroad, rather than at home addressing Representatives seemingly motivated by their own personal agendas.