Playing Politics With the Middle East

Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer and Charles Schumer boycotted a joint session of Congress yesterday when it convened to hear Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The duo’s gesture was an effort to make a political statement along with their House colleagues.

On July 25, nineteen House Democrats sent a letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert in which they decried July 19 comments made by Maliki regarding Israel. Maliki had come down on the wrong side of the fence when commenting on the current Middle East crisis, saying, “We call on the world to take quick stands to stop the Israeli aggression.”

In their letter to Hastert, Democrats wrote, “This is not the first time that Iraqi leadership has made statements in conflict with the interests and policy of the United States… We are unaware of any prior instance where a world leader who worked against the interests of the United States was afforded such an honor.” Maliki’s address to a joint session of Congress should be cancelled, the signatories claimed.

But Republicans on Capitol Hill were quick to point out a clear inconsistency. An e-mail circulated yesterday by Republican leadership staff provided another list of quotes:
Israel’s “excessive use of force is to be condemned.”

“Yet a number of its (Israel’s) actions have hurt and killed Lebanese civilians and military personnel and caused great damage to infrastructure.”

“But while Israel has stated its military objective is to hit Hezbollah’s infrastructure and physical strength, it has, in the words of the Lebanese prime minister, torn the country to shreds.”

The e-mail contained one final quote uttered after the deaths of three UN officials in Lebanon. “I am shocked and deeply distressed by the apparently deliberate targeting by Israeli Defense Forces of a UN Observer post” in Lebanon.

Of course, the man quoted in each case is UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, but to date, no Democratic letters to Republican leadership concerning Annan’s comments have surfaced.

In a statement released yesterday Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell said that this “selective outrage shows this action for what it is: a political stunt resulting from the Democrats’ lack of ideas on how to succeed in Iraq. This is an insult to a duly elected leader, and a strong ally in the war on terror. While we may not agree with every position taken by the prime minister, surely we can all agree that we should set politics aside and listen to what he has to say.”

Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas agreed. In an interview on Fox News Hutchison said that Maliki, “is a man who is risking his life to lead his country.” She expressed disappointment with her colleagues’ decision to skip the speech, and pointed out that it’s in America’s interest to have Iraq become a success story, “We need to have [Maliki] succeed; we need to give him our support.”

Ironically, Schumer frequently talks about the importance of “winning hearts and minds” in the Middle East. But boycotting Maliki’s speech and dictating policy to him as if he were a dimwitted child doesn’t seem like an effective way to win political support abroad.

Last month Schumer led the charge in the United States Senate to pass a resolution urging the President to tell Maliki to overturn a policy a policy that would provide amnesty to certain terrorists held captive in Iraq. The policy would not apply to terrorists who have harmed U.S. troops or Iraqis but was nevertheless ripe for political fodder. Schumer later insisted the President call Maliki and impose a Schumer-prescribed policy on the Iraqi Prime Minister.

Whatever one thinks of Maliki’s policies, it must be admitted that the tactics employed by Schumer and some of his colleagues seem far better suited for domestic politics than for sound foreign policy.