The age of Ileana

Miami Congresswoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen will take over the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the next Congress.

When the 112th Congress convenes in January, it’s gonna be a whole new world in the House Foreign Relations committee … and that world is going to be short, feisty and belligerent toward commies who aren’t China …

From the Miami Herald:

WASHINGTON — Promising to play “hardball” with “rogue regimes” and press for cuts in foreign aid, Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen moved rapidly Wednesday to put her mark on U.S. foreign policy as the incoming chair of the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee.

On Wednesday, the Havana-born lawmaker officially became the first Cuban-American to chair a House committee, and the foreign policy hawk signaled she’ll challenge the Obama administration, pressing for tougher sanctions on U.S. enemies, including Iran and North Korea.

“Rogue regimes never respond to anything less than hardball,” she said. “I pledge to do all that I can to isolate U.S. enemies while empowering and strengthening our allies, and I will not make apologies for doing either.”

Ros-Lehtinen, 58, becomes the first South Floridian to lead one of the nation’s key foreign policy posts since the 1980s, when Democrat Dante Fascell became a national figure in the same post. Fascell used the position to help win congressional approval for Radio and TV Martí, supported the Nicaraguan contras and was a chief sponsor of a resolution authorizing the first Iraq war.

Her ascension — which likely scuttles any congressional efforts to ease sanctions against Cuba — has already prompted saber-rattling from critics, including Latin America leaders like Fidel Castro. But Ros-Lehtinen, who will take charge in January, will have more than Latin America on her plate.

She promised aggressive oversight of U.S. foreign policy, including the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as a review of foreign aid with an eye toward cutting costs.

“I know no State Department official or anyone involved in international affairs wants to hear that, but that’s the sad reality of our economic state,” she said in an interview at the Capitol. “We’re tightening our belts domestically, and we must do so internationally as well.”

For example, she is targeting aid to the U.N. Human Rights Council, which the Obama administration rejoined after the Bush administration shunned it. “They either reform the way they do business or why contribute our dollars?” she said.

As for aid to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, Ros-Lehtinen said she’s worried that international donors are getting frustrated.

“In order to help Haiti more we have to show the American taxpayer that Haiti is going to use those dollars wisely and right now they’re thinking that Haiti may not be as good an investment of their tax dollars as it should be,” she said.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley sidestepped a question of whether the agency is worried about potential cuts: “We look forward to engaging the new chairwoman of the committee and we think we have a strong case to make,” Crowley said. “We believe that there are compelling reasons to support the civilian component of a balanced national security strategy that we think is in the national interest.” …

Yeah. Good luck with that.

Ileana is expected to follow the Issa trend of barraging the administration with hearings. She is a staunch opponent of criticizing Israel, a super hawk on Iran (and part of the faction on that House committee who aren’t shy about speculating about military action to stop that country from getting nukes…) and thinks the administration’s response to North Korea has been “too weak” (maybe we should drop a few nukes???) She has said she wants to further scrutinize U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, too. But it is on Latin America where Ileana real finds her passion:

Her appointment drew criticism even before it was official: In a November column, Castro called Ros-Lehtinen “la loba feroz” — the big bad wolf — and a “symbol of hatred of and resentment against Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia. . . .”

Venezuela’s ambassador to the U.S. wrote a blistering commentary in Foreign Policy magazine this week, calling Ros-Lehtinen and Fort Myers Republican Rep. Connie Mack, who will likely chair the committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee, “throwback Latin American cold warriors, catering to their Cuban-American constituents with belligerent policies toward any neighboring government that seeks independence from U.S. influence.”

Ros-Lehtinen met the criticism with cheery nonchalance, tweeting: “BINGO: 1st Evo Morales slams me, then Chavez calls me bandit + now Fidel says I’m Loba Feroz. . . .”

Other critics have questioned her suitability for the post, pointing to an episode in 2006 in which Ros-Lehtinen appeared to suggest in a video that she’d welcome Fidel Castro’s assassination.

“If I don’t have critics then I’m not doing my job as well as I could be,” she said Wednesday. “I make no apologies for being a person who stands up for human rights and freedom and democracy.”

On the softer side of Ros Lehtinen — who in person is actually quite a nice lady — she supports repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and along with the two other Cuban-American Republican congressmen in South Florida, the brothers Diaz-Balart (one of whom is retiring next year) she has been a constant ally of Democrats Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Kendrick Meek, so much so that the two Dems refused to campaign against their three amigos during the 2006 congressional campaign, to the delight (not) of Democrats everywhere.

Ileana is not without controversy. She has a history of supporting the MEK, a group designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., and which has been waging a proxy war against Iran (at one time, with the support of then Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.) Ileana and company on the committee are likely to try and get the MEK taken off the terrorist list. But not everyone thinks that would be wise…

From Foreign Policy magazine in September:

It’s been over two months since the toughest Iran sanctions ever approved by Congress were signed into law, three months since the UN’s latest resolution, and 15 months since Iran’s post-election demonstrations began. Despite all of this, Iran’s clerical government is not crumbling, nor has Iran shown any sign of giving in to the West on its nuclear program.

Recent weeks have seen a renewed discussion of military options for stopping Iran’s nuclear program - kicked off by Jeffrey Goldberg’s cover article in the Atlantic. But there is also a campaign underway to promote a different option on Iran: regime change, via Iranian dissidents in exile.

Members of Congress led by Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) have introduced a resolution calling on the Secretary of State and the President to throw the support of the United States behind an exiled Iranian terrorist group seeking to overthrow the Iranian regime and install themselves in power. Calling the exiled organization “Iran’s main opposition,” Filner is urging the State Department to end the blacklisting of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) — a group listed by the State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The resolution currently has 83 cosponsors and is gaining significant ground.

The MEK — a sort of Ahmed Chalabi for Iran — calls itself a government-in-exile, with a huge public base of support and a powerful megaphone both in the US and Europe to promote its anti-mullah agenda. Counted among the groups supporters are former Ambassador John Bolton, former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and countless others in positions of prominence. Capitol Hill staffers have long known (and for many, come to dread) the familiar faces of MEK activists pounding the pavement in the House and Senate office buildings. One House staffer told me that the MEK is “the most mobilized grassroots advocacy effort in the country — AIPAC included.” And though it’s impossible to keep up with the various names and aliases the group or its supporters go by, the agenda is clear: to be removed from the terrorist list and to gain US backing in their fight against Iran’s clerical government.

According to former members, though, the MEK is a cult-like organization where members are required to divorce their spouses and hand over their children to be raised by others — a powerful disincentive to potential defectors. Its ideology blends elements of Islamism with Marxism, though its public face has evolved over time to become much more appealing to Western backers. The group now places a strong emphasis on its vision for a secular, democratic, and nuclear-free Iran. According to the group’s supporters, the MEK abandoned terrorism in 2003.

The designation of the MEK as a terrorist organization stems from its activities inside Iran aimed at overthrowing both the Shah’s government and, later, the Islamic Republic. According to the State Department’s description included in the FTO listing, “[d]uring the 1970s the MEK staged terrorist attacks inside Iran and killed several US military personnel and civilians working on defense projects in Tehran,” and their activities continued through the 1990′s and after.

For Americans, perhaps nothing about the group is more offensive than its support of the takeover of the US Embassy in 1979, during which its members strongly denounced the hostages’ ultimate release in January 1981. But for Iranians, the MEK’s betrayal came during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980′s, when the group sided with Saddam Hussein in the fight against their home country. The group bombed Iran’s parliament in 1981, killing both the president and the Prime Minister, and regularly assassinated and bombed Iranian governmental officials up until the 2000′s.

Thus, the MEK organization has literally zero support among the Iranian people. The closest thing to how Iranians feel about the MEK is how Americans feel about al-Qaeda. It’s not even a subject of debate.

Which is why it’s bizarre that members of Congress would want to lend US credibility to such an organization. Iran’s hardliners already justify repression and executions by accusing their opponents of siding with the MEK; and another favorite refrain from the clerics has to do with a foreign conspiracy to carry out regime change. So wouldn’t de-listing the MEK hand Iran’s hardliners precisely the pretext to crack down on dissidents that Rep. Filner ostensibly seeks to deny them?

The fact is Congress fundamentally misunderstands the nature of Iran’s opposition. Although the Green Movement has largely subsided, it held a lot of political weight in the aftermath of the election last year — but at no time was the MEK a part of the Green Movement. Zara Rahnavard, the wife of Mir Hossein Mousavi, sought to put an end to the confusion by saying:

The MEK can’t be part of the Green Movement. This bankrupt political group now makes some laughable claims, but the Green Movement and the MEK have a wall between them and all of us, including myself, Mr. Mousavi, Mr. Khatami, and Mr. Karroubi and all of us within the Green Movement do not consider the MEK a part of the Green Movement.

Rep. Filner and his congressional colleagues are wrong to support this group. Regardless of whether the MEK has abandoned terrorism, they continue to call for American bombing, invasion, and occupation of Iran. De-listing the MEK would signal US backing for the group’s agenda, including regime change operations, and would confuse some of the most hated Iranians in the world with the millions of true Iranian democrats who supported the Green Movement.

So that should work out well.

This entry was posted in 112th Congress, Cuba, Florida, Foreign policy, Iran, News and Current Affairs, Politics, Republicans. Bookmark the permalink.

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