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Tuesday, 01 August 2006 07:50

Rep. Van Hollen to Condi Rice: Bush Admin's Foreign Policy Diminishes US Credibility and Moral Standing

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This letter below, from Congressman Van Hollen to Secretary Rice, was forwarded to BuzzFlash by one of our readers. We confirmed with the Congressman's office that he did send the letter. Click here for a PDF of the letter.

From BuzzFlash Reader Linda:

Dear BuzzFlash--Since we all so often despair of the paucity of true representation in Congress these days, I thought you might be interesteed in reading this letter from my Congressman to Condoleeza Rice on the Lebanon bombing. I was very impressed with it and will pay more attention to this man's work in the future.

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July 30, 2006

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
United States Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Rice:

I write regarding the tragic situation in Lebanon. I urge you to call for an immediate cease-fire to be followed by the rapid deployment of an international force in southern Lebanon. I began this letter Friday evening, but today's bombings in Qana have made the matter even more urgent. A forty-eight hour time-out in the bombing campaign is not sufficient. Your lack of effective action to date has turned an opportunity to isolate Hezbollah into a political victory for Hezbollah.

The killing and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah precipitated the current crisis in the region. Those actions were followed by Hezbollah rocket attacks that have fallen indiscriminately in Haifa and other Israeli population centers. Like any sovereign country, Israel has the right and responsibility to defend itself. The people of Lebanon understand that Israel did not initiate these hostilities. By all reports, the majority in Lebanon strongly resent Hezbollah for dragging Lebanon into this conflict and recognizes that Israel has a right to target the military apparatus employed by Hezbollah to launch its attacks on Israel.

The Israeli response, however, has now gone beyond the destruction of Hezbollah's military assets. It has caused huge damage to Lebanon's civilian infrastructure, resulted in the large loss of civilian life, and produced over 750,000 refugees. Hezbollah is undeniably the culprit, but it is the Lebanese people -- not Hezbollah -- who are increasingly the victims of the violence. As a result, the Israeli bombing campaign, supported by the United States, has transformed Lebanese anger at Hezbollah into growing hostility toward Israel and the United States. The result has been a surge in the political strength and popularity of Hezbollah and its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, and the weakening of the already fragile Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the Arab League have gone from condemning Hezbollah to denouncing Israel for its actions and the United States for its inaction. Even Prime Minister Siniora has now publicly praised Hezbollah for defending the country. We have squandered an opportunity to isolate Hezbollah and strengthen our credibility and negotiating leverage in the region. As a result of our ineffectiveness, Hezbollah has won a political victory not only in Lebanon, but throughout the Arab world, the Muslim world, and much of the international community. We may have won some battles, but we are losing the war.

You have failed the obligation of a good friend to give sound counsel and advice. I understand the impulses that are driving Israel's actions, but I strongly believe that a continuation of the bombing campaign as it is being carried out is against the interests of the Israel and the United States. When someone is in the heat of battle, it can sometimes be difficult to see the full picture. It is the responsibility of the United States, as a close friend and ally, to intervene more effectively in this crisis. In my view, Israel is entirely justified in using the maximum force necessary to hit Hezbollah military targets. The issue, however, is not the amount of force used, but where and how it is applied. Had you done your job and successfully urged Israel to limit its attacks to clear, identifiable Hezbollah military assets, I would support a continuation of the campaign. But you failed to do that. Your lack of effective leadership has harmed the interests of both Israel and the United States.

The lack of American leadership in the current crisis exists in the larger context of our failed policies in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. The policy of promoting democracy in the Middle East is the right one, but you and the Bush Administration have missed the critical point from the start. Do you believe that free and fair elections today in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world would bring to power governments that are more willing to live in peace with Israel and are more interested in building stability and peace in the region than those that exist today? I don't think so. Not if you pay attention to public opinion there. It is clear that the result of such democratic elections would likely be governments that are much more anti-Israel and anti-American than those today. Witness the election of Hamas. The point, however, is not to stop promoting democracy, but to recognize that the public perception of our policies in the Arab and Muslim world will have a direct bearing on the nature of any democratically elected governments. Consequently, if we are going to keep promoting democracy in the Middle East, we had better start caring about the public perceptions of our policies in the region. Otherwise, you are simply promoting a process that will produce governments that hate both Israel and the United States.

That brings me back to Lebanon. As you have said, the starting point should be the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the dismantling of all independent militias in Lebanon. It is obvious that, in the short term, the Lebanese army is not strong enough to defeat the Hezbollah forces militarily. Even the Israeli military campaign, while degrading Hezbollah's military capabilities, cannot deliver a knock-out punch. Consequently, international forces with a strong mandate will have to be deployed to southern Lebanon. However, that will not resolve the underlying political issues. The Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is already fragile. Now it has been further weakened. As you know, Hezbollah has significant representation in the Lebanese parliament. Had the current crisis been handled differently, their influence could have been diminished. Now, however, their political stock has risen. As a result, it will be extremely difficult for the Lebanese government, assuming it survives the crisis, to strengthen the Lebanese military with the purpose of disarming Hezbollah. Once again, while we have rightly promoted democracy in Lebanon, our policies have mostly strengthened the political standing of those most adverse to our interests.

Any comprehensive and long lasting resolution of the current crisis must also address the role of Syria and Iran in arming Hezbollah. The United States must do more to rally international efforts to pressure Iran and Syria to end their support for Hezbollah and Hamas. Unfortunately, the war in Iraq has had the unintentional but very foreseeable consequence of inflaming anti-Western sentiment and strengthening the hand of the most radical Islamic forces. Among the biggest beneficiaries has been Iran with its many ties to the majority Shia population in Iraq. Iran has successfully exploited the chaos and instability in neighboring Iraq to advance its own radical agenda and expand its influence in the region. We must develop a better strategy for addressing this trend, but the fact that we are bogged down in Iraq has complicated this effort.

Finally, no lasting solution to the turmoil in the Middle East will be achieved without resolving the Israeli-Palestinian problem. In a speech delivered at the American Enterprise Institute in February 2003, a few weeks before invading Iraq, President Bush declared that going to war would help promote democracy and stability in the Middle East, reduce the influence of the hardliners and help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He claimed that it would "begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace and set in motion progress toward a truly democratic Palestinian state." Unfortunately, but predictably, we have seen the opposite result in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. The region has been more radicalized and Hamas prevailed in the Palestinian elections. While we engaged militarily in Iraq, this Administration has disengaged from any serious effort at re-establishing an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It is essential that the United States renew its efforts to resolve this festering issue. There can be little doubt that the lack of progress on that front continues to breed hatred and hostility that is effectively exploited by Hezbollah, Iran, Syria and others. Until that conflict is resolved, it will remain a key component of anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East and complicate our efforts at democracy promotion in the region.

The overall foreign policy of this Administration has significantly diminished America's credibility and moral standing around the world. That, in turn, has severely undermined our effectiveness. I sincerely hope that the current turmoil in the Middle East will result in a fresh American initiative to seek a comprehensive solution to the many conflicts brewing in the region. It will be a true test of leadership. I hope you will engage the Congress in such an effort.

Sincerely,

Chris Van Hollen
Member of Congress

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