Congressional Hearings Put Politics above Country

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Congressional Hearings Put Politics Above Country

Two hearings -- one in the House and one in the Senate -- were held during the past couple of months that held promise of furthering the debate on U.S. policy in the Middle East. They failed to do so, however, mostly because the participants were more interested in making points than in advancing U.S. interests in the region.

The first of these hearings was held by Chairman Benjamin Gilman's (R-NY) House International Relations Committee on July 29. This was intended to be a routine hearing on "developments in the Middle East," with Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Martin Indyk briefing the committee members and fielding their questions.

In his opening statement, Gilman made it clear that he disagreed with just about every aspect of U.S. policy in the region. He complained about softening of the administration's position toward Iran and "the ongoing threats from Iraq," and about "unhelpful" measures being taken by Arab organizations and governments against Israel.

Defending the administration's latest policy toward the Middle East peace process, Indyk said: "We are in constant touch with both sides, but believe that it is essential for them to resolve these issues directly. As soon as they do so, we stand ready to involve ourselves." On Iraq, he said the administration is countering efforts to lift sanctions, while supporting programs to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. On Iran, he said the administration takes seriously Iran's test launching of a Shahab-III missile, but also continues "to encourage moderation in Iran's international behavior."

In the question period, ranking minority member Lee Hamilton (D-IN) tried to inject some substance into the hearing by asking whether Indyk agreed that progress in the peace process is the "linch-pin" to U.S. interests in the Middle East. Indyk would only say it is "one of them -- along with what happens in Iran and Iraq," which amounted to a complete cop-out.

One interesting claim made by Indyk during the question period (while never explicitly acknowledging that it was the administration's proposal) was that two-thirds of the Israeli public supports a 13 percent Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank. He also acknowledged that Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad is becoming impatient with Israeli foot-dragging over restarting the Israel-Syria negotiations.

The second initially promising initiative was a Sept. 3 joint heating with the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees on "U.N. …