As I predicted last December (and then discussed again recently), a noisy anti-Russian corner has emerged in the U.S. House of Representatives, thanks to the ascension of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen(R-FL) to the position of Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. On July 7, Ros-Lehtinen presided over the hearings intriguingly titled "Time to Pause the Reset?: Defending U.S. Interests in the Face of Russian Aggression." Ros-Lehtinen's opening statement presents us with a useful opportunity to review her foreign-policy credentials.
The key point that Ros-Lehtinen is trying to make is that as a result of the policy of reset toward Russia, the Obama administration has made a number of unnecessary concessions to Moscow. Among these "concessions" Ros-Lehtinen counts the civil nuclear cooperation agreement ("a gift, pure and simple") and U.S. support for Russia's entry into the WTO. And what did the U.S. get in return? Nothing, according to the vigilant Chairwoman. In particular, "Russia's approach to Iran remains essentially unchanged," argues Ros-Lehtinen, conveniently forgetting Russia's ban to sell the S-300 air-defense systems and other military equipment to Tehran. Ros-Lehtinen also charges that "Russia is…committed to stopping U.S. missile defense efforts." Stopping? The last time I checked, there were ongoing talks between the two countries about cooperation on missile defense.
Yet, even as blinded by the Russophobia as she is, Ros-Lehtinen must sense that bilateral disagreements on specific policy issues can't be automatically qualified as Russian aggression. So she feels the needs to come up with examples of such, and her choices are hardly original. It's the same list of the usual suspects: gas disputes with Ukraine and the 2008 war with Georgia. I leave aside Ros-Lehtinen's apparent inability to apprehend the complexity of the events she's talking about. What surprises me is her "liberal" treatment of the timing: most of the events she mentioned took place before Obama became president and certainly before the policy of reset was announced (in spring of 2009).
As if sensing that her body of evidence suffers from anorexia, Ros-Lehtinen adds:
"There are many other areas in which Russia still targets U.S. interests…but the list is too long to go into here."
Nice! Almost like a prosecutor who would address the jury in court with the following:
"There are many facts pointing to the defendant's guilt, but the list is too long to go into here."
Naturally, Ros-Lehtinen couldn't ignore "the Russian government's abuses of human rights." To highlight those, she comes up with this outstanding statement:
"And in yet another effort to prevent the democratic opposition from participating in the upcoming parliamentary elections, the Kremlin has banned Boris Nemtsov, one of Russia's most prominent democratic leaders whom I met with last year, from leaving Russia again should he return from his current visit to France."
Will someone please explain me – in plain English – what Ros-Lehtinen meant to say here? What do Nemtsov's ability to travel abroad and the December Duma elections have in common? Does Ros-Lehtinen suggest that Nemtsov should leave Russia to take part in the elections? (Does Ros-Lehtinen have a staff that proofreads her statements before she articulates them in public?)
As a supporter of reset, I ought to feel good that its opponents have nothing of substance to say. However, as an American taxpayer, I'm deeply troubled by the inability of a high-ranked congressional leader to put together an intelligible, if not intelligent, two-page statement. I know, I know: the House Foreign Affairs Committee is not a place where U.S. foreign policy is being drawn and conducted. And yet, this show of sheer professional incompetence questions the very system of seniority by which members of Congress, including Ros-Lehtinen, get their chairmanships in the House committees. Isn't it time to replace it with something more meritocratic?