Democratic Congressman Steve Israel from the state of New York serves on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. He is a member of several subcommittees dealing with the funding of energy initiatives and U.S. foreign operations, including the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Voice of America. In 2005, Congressman Israel formed the “House Center Aisle Caucus,” a group of nearly 50 House Democrats and Republicans working to establish respectful dialogue on contentious issues. He is also the editor a new book, Charge! History’s Greatest Military Speeches.
When he served on the House Armed Services Committee, Steve Israel says he came to realize that “you have to fight not just with your hands but your heart.” Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Congressman Israel says that experience led him to consider what moments in history required “will power, not just fire power.” For example, during the invasion of Britain by the Spanish Armada in 1588, Queen Elizabeth I left her throne and joined her forces at the coast and said to them that she was “prepared to die amongst them” and although she might have the “body of a weak and feeble woman,” she had the “mind of a king.”
Congressman Israel explains that in any war there are three centers of gravity – the population in which you are fighting (e.g. the Iraqi people), the population from which warriors come (e.g. the American people), and the military itself. He suggests that the will power in those first two centers of gravity has eroded badly. Furthermore, what Americans are learning in Iraq is that firepower doesn’t always defeat will power (e.g. the insurgents). He says that building a “bigger and better weapons system” is insufficient without winning the “hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.” Congressman Israel says, even though he initially supported the war in Iraq, he now believes that U.S. strategy is not working and needs to change.
At this juncture, the Congressman says, “we are out of good ideas” for ending the war and “are down to figuring out what the least bad idea is.” He suggests pressing for a “status-of-forces agreement with the Iraqi government” similar to the agreements the United States has “almost everywhere else that its military has a presence.” He strongly recommends pursuing a “diplomatic surge,” which involves what he calls “all sorts of carrots and sticks.” Congressman Israel says that an “enduring relationship” between Washington and Baghdad depends on “two capable independent structures.” Therefore, it is critical to “build the capability of the Iraqi government to endure.”
Steve Israel describes himself as “rather hawkish” on Iran. He says that, while he would “never take the military option off the table,” he believes there are other ways of engaging the world, including Iran, to “depart from a very destructive course.” He says there are a variety of smart economic moves that Washington should be pursuing while engaging Iran diplomatically.
Congressman Israel says he believes that the administration was not “sufficiently engaged in the Middle East” until after 9/11. He says he will be optimistic about peace in the Middle East when both parties can enforce the terms of the peace treaty or settlement. He says he is hopeful that the Palestinian Authority – and Fatah – will “build a capability to enforce whatever peace is negotiated.”
It is also critical to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Congressman Steve Israel says that we need the national and global leadership not only to summon the American people - but also the world - into a “new energy compact” to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and to reverse the “perilous trajectory of global warming.”
For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.