WASHINGTON – The new chairman of the US House’s Middle East subcommittee blasted the Obama administration on Friday for not taking a tougher line against the Muslim Brotherhood and its possible inclusion in the next Egyptian government.
“I think we ought to be very clear that the Muslim Brotherhood should not be part of a future government in Egypt,” Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), 58, told The Jerusalem Post in his first interview with an Israeli paper since becoming chairman of the US House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia.
The US should condition aid to Egypt – now at around $1.5 billion a year – on whether the Muslim Brotherhood ends up in the government, Chabot said.
“They’re about Shari’a law, they’re about suppressing women’s rights, and I don’t think that we ought to condone that, I don’t think that ought to be any part of the future of Egypt,” he said. “We might not have the power to implement the US program, but I think with our support – financial and otherwise – that we can maybe encourage things that would ultimately be in their best long-term interests, and Israel’s and the United States’.”
Chabot criticized the Obama administration for not being bold enough in its position on the Brotherhood, and argued that the US weakness on this issue has emboldened Iran and other enemies of America who were calculating how to take advantage of the unrest.
The White House has talked about the importance of including “nonsectarian” groups in Egypt’s future government, and US officials have not issued blanket condemnations of the groups nor indicated they oppose their participation in elections.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking generally about the region in Geneva on Monday, said that “political participation must be open to all people across the spectrum who reject violence, uphold equality, and agree to play by the rules of democracy.”
“They’ve been less than clear about accepting the Muslim Brotherhood in a future government and in what capacity, and I think that sends a message to those that are going to be negotiating the future of Egypt’s government,” Chabot said of the Obama administration. He added that broadly “this administration has oftentimes sent mixed messages, and pretty tepid and weak messages on occasion.”
He described its “impotent” response to Iran’s repression of the opposition movement in 2009 as the “most blaring example,” and charged that as a result of that reaction and the one being expressed now, Iran feels stronger.
Such strengthening of Iran contributed the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon, he added.
Just as Chabot doesn’t want to see American dollars going to a government including the Muslim Brotherhood, he is opposed to aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces in a Hezbollah-backed Lebanese government, as is currently being formed in Beirut. The Obama administration has defended such aid as necessary to encourage secular actors and counter-balance money coming Iran and its allies.
Chabot was more circumspect when it came to continued American funding of the Palestinian Authority – slated for some $400 million in President Barack Obama’s 2012 budget request – but suggested it should be connected to movement on the peace process.
“Any aid should be dependent on their good-faith effort to resolve this situation, and thus far I’m not seeing much good faith on the Palestinian side,” he said.
Chabot castigated the Palestinians for using settlements as a “diversionary tactic” in order “to drive off the rails true peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.”
He called on the Obama administration to be firmer in pressing the Palestinians in the face of “their intransigence in refusing to hold meaningful direct negotiations with the Israelis.”
He also warned the Palestinians against seeing the UN as a viable alternative to negotiations and otherwise trying to “unilaterally impose on Israel what they ultimately want to get.”
In one of his few words of praise for Obama in his conversation with the Post, Chabot lauded the US veto of a UN Security Council resolution being pushed by the Palestinians that would have condemned Israel for settlement construction.
While it is his own Republican Party that has been making loud calls for cutting foreign aid, Chabot said he was confident Israel’s more than $3b. in yearly assistance was secure.
“Even though this new Congress and a new conservative Republican-oriented House, of which I’m a part, is absolutely bound and determined to get our fiscal house in order, even those folks understand the importance of our relationship with Israel,” he said.
Chabot, who once went to The Hague to defend Israel when the International Court of Justice there was considering the legality of the West Bank security barrier, said he was pleased that his colleagues agreed with him in seeing Israel aid as “one area where we should absolutely not be cutting back on funding, that we need to continue to make sure that Israel gets the aid that it needs and deserves.”