It would be interesting to know if anyone on Capitol Hill ever takes time out from being seduced by lobbyists to wonder about what Americans think of their elected representatives. Congress has the lowest approval rating ever in public opinion polls and only one American in ten is gullible enough to think they are doing an adequate job. If Congress were a company, it would have gone out of business long ago.
The skepticism reflected in the public’s attitude is due in part to the partisan politics that has become the driving force in Washington. The national interest is routinely sacrificed for political gain and even economic recovery can be put on hold if it increases the chances for changing the occupant of the White House.
Another reason for the low esteem of Congress is that much of what takes place there falls somewhere between farce and theater of the absurd. Take for instance congressional hearings. One might think that they would be an opportunity to elicit unbiased information, call attention to problems and explore options for dealing with those problems.
That would of course be a logical conclusion if the institution in question were not so dysfunctional. Remember when they had a panel to consider women’s health issues comprised entirely of men?
Well a hearing coming up before the House Foreign Affairs Committee is not much better. It will deal with the subject of “Safeguarding Israel’s Security in a Volatile Region.” The witnesses to be heard are listed as the Honorable Elliot Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations, Mr. James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation and the Honorable Martin S. Indyk of the Brookings Institution.
One might wonder what information could be elicited from a man who faced being charged with two felony counts of lying to Congress. The "honorable" Mr. Abrams, in order to avoid a trial and the risk of a stiffer sentence, copped a plea and admitted his guilt to two misdemeanors. This was back when Oliver North and other distinguished public servants like Mr. Abrams thought it was a swell idea to sell arms to Iran and use the proceeds to bankroll the Contras. One of the many government positions held by Mr. Abrams was Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights during the Reagan administration where he devoted himself to denying the human rights abuses occurring in Central America that were frequent committed by his friends the Contras.
The second witness, Mr. Phillips, has no apparent criminal record, but he does belong to the Committee on the Present Danger. It was started during the Cold War, but when that conflict was won the group remade their anti-Communism into Islamo-paranoia. And they have yet to find a war they did not want to fight. Or to put it more accurately, a war where they were not ready to fight to the last drop of someone else's blood since almost none of them ever found time in their busy careers to serve their country in uniform.
The Honorable Mr. Indyk was appointed American ambassador to Israel by President Clinton a few short weeks after he shed his Australian citizenship. He got his start in Middle Eastern affairs working for AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is one of the most effective and hawkish lobbies in Washington. Among the three, if there is any hope for a rational and reasonable discussion of Israel's security, it lies with Ambassador Indyk.
So the hearing will be held and those pushing to drag the United States into a war with Iran, who are the same people who helped produce the war with Iraq, will have their day. Meanwhile studies like the one put out recently by a bipartisan (yes that is possible as long as there are no politicians) group of eminent foreign policy and military affairs authorities will get ignored by the House Committee. The study concludes that the chances for an attack on Iran mushrooming into a regional war are much better than the chance that it might be a military success in any sense of the word.
But why should that concern the shining city on the Hill where reality is as rare as integrity.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Dennis Jett, a former U.S. ambassador to Mozambique and Peru, is a professor of international affairs at Penn State's School of International Affairs.
McClatchy Newspapers did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy Newspapers or its editors.