Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, 'Buck' McKeon to Wield Clout on Foreign Affairs, Defense
Giulia Lasagni of Politics Daily
The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives could have considerable affect on that body's approach to national security and foreign policy issues. Rep. John Boehner, who will become the next speaker, has promised that committee chairmen will be key to party strategy on the front lines. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Howard P. "Buck" McKeon -- Republicans who are expected to become the new chairs of committees that deal with substantive military and foreign policy issues -- are likely to focus on the 2011 withdrawal deadline in Afghanistan, the defense budget and a new detention policy for suspected terrorists. Here's a brief look at how the two new leaders' views could affect President Obama's strategies in these areas.
HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who won a 12th term in Congress earlier this month, is currently the senior Republican on the committee and likely to become its next chair. Some of her positions are outlined below.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Howard P. On Iran and North Korea:
A supporter of Israel, Ros-Lehtinen is a strong advocate of sanctions against Iran and North Korea. In recent years, she has sponsored and co-authored several pieces of legislation aimed at limiting Iran's nuclear capability and its support of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah. She supported, among other initiatives, the Iran Freedom Support Act (2005), the Iran Sanctions Amendments Act (2007), the Iran Threat Reduction Act (2009) and the Iran Proliferation Prevention Act (2010).
Commenting on the president's recent trip to Asia, she called for increased sanctions on North Korea. "Instead of continuing its failed strategy of seeking to engage the regime in endless negotiation, the administration must ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang," she said in a statement, urging in particular that President Obama persuade other heads of state "to call for the imposition of new and effective U.N. Security Council sanctions" on the rogue nation.
A Cuban-American and the first Hispanic woman elected in the House, Ros-Lehtinen is a vocal critic of the Castro regime and opposes any kind of diplomatic initiative directed at Cuba, as well as lifting the ban that prevents most Americans from traveling there. And she hasn't been one to mince her words on Cuba's longtime dictator: "I welcome the opportunity of having anyone assassinate Fidel Castro and any leader who is oppressing the people," she said in an interview recorded for a British documentary called "638 Ways to Kill Castro." Ros-Lehtinen later said her quote had been edited out of context.
On Foreign Assistance and U.N. Reform
"U.S. foreign aid programs are plagued by a lack of effective oversight, resulting in tax dollars being squandered or disbursed to violent foreign extremist organizations," Ros-Lehtinen said in 2009. That same year, she introduced the Foreign Assistance Partner Vetting System Act, which would establish "procedures to prevent U.S. taxpayer dollars from benefiting foreign extremist organizations."
Ros-Lehtinen is particularly critical of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides humanitarian relief to Palestinian refugees. Accusing the agency of failing to adequately vet staff and aid recipients, Ros-Lehtinen wants the U.S. to withdraw its funding. "Millions in taxpayer dollars are wasted annually by unmanageable foreign assistance programs, and some taxpayer money even finds its way into the hands of violent Islamist groups and others with American blood on their hands," she has said. In addition, Ros-Lehtinen is a vocal critic of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which she alleges is "dominated by human rights violators." Moreover, she said, "only sweeping reform will restore the U.N.'s past advocacy for human rights, reflecting the ideals it was founded on."
HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE
Howard P. "Buck" McKeon of California, the top Republican on the committee, is expected to become its next chairman. Some of his positions are outlined below.
Calling Obama's July 2011 date to begin withdrawal a "mistake," McKeon said at the Foreign Policy Initiative's 2010 Leadership Forum that he hopes the new strategic focus in Afghanistan will be "on winning" and not on timetables. "Any withdrawal short of victory would demonstrate to al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups that they only have to cause enough casualties or prolong a conflict in order to drive the United States out of regions once deemed vital to our national interest," he said. McKeon also said the Armed Services Committee should hear from Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, on the surge before starting to transfer forces out the country.
McKeon is concerned that the progress made so far in Iraq may be jeopardized by a premature withdrawal of U.S. assistance. "Cutbacks in aid and advisory plans could end any chance of an effective strategic partnership with Iraq and lose the war by default," he said.
On the Defense Budget:
McKeon advocates a stronger and more efficient military, which he considers key in preserving American global power. "A defense budget in decline portends an America in decline," the nine-term congressman has said. ". . .If the administration fails to modernize and grow our military force structure, views of America in decline will harden and cause allegiances to shift."
McKeon is also an advocate of missile defense systems and other advances that can counter an adversary's threats.
On Homeland Security:
McKeon said he plans to reaffirm the Authorization for Use of Military Force approved by the Bush administration in 2001 so that individuals who are detained on terrorism charges are tried based on "the law of armed conflict – not the criminal justice system." This, he said, would strengthen U.S. national security. There would be "no more mirandizing terrorists; no more trials in downtown Manhattan; no more terrorist transfers to Yemen. The American people need a new terrorist detainee policy." In that regard, he is expected to sponsor new legislation on terrorist detention.