Grilling gets heated in House committee hearing on Egypt and Middle East
Monday, February 14, 2011; 11:50 PM
Running the gantlet was an old form of punishment in which a culprit ran between two rows of people who would yell, spit or strike the person as he or she passed by. In more modern times, it is defined by one dictionary as "to go through a series of criticisms or harsh treatments at the hands of one's detractors."
Last Thursday, Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg faced the equivalent of the gantlet while appearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss U.S. policies toward Egypt, Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East.
In discussing Obama administration positions and State Department actions during a session that lasted more than two hours, Republicans and Democrats alternated between verbal whippings about past and recent activities and extended, sometimes-contradictory lectures on what should be done.
Overall, the hearing should be viewed as a preview of what this panel will be doing for the next two years, headed as it is by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a firm critic of many Obama administration approaches to foreign policy.
Take Ros-Lehtinen's opening statement, in which she discussed the state of affairs of what she termed "the Lebanon debacle." She was referring to Lebanon's last elections, in which Hezbollah won a prominent role, and how its recent prime minister-designate, Najib Mikati, is attempting to form a government.
Hezbollah's election success, she said, was based on the failure of "responsible nations to insist on changing Syrian-dictated electoral law and subsequent regulation."
She lectured: "Clear standards for participation in elections and institutions must be both articulated and implemented to ensure that destructive actors are not afforded the opportunity to hijack an incipient democratic process."
Nowhere did she recognize any limitation on what the United States could do in shaping another country's election laws. She went on to say that the next round of Egyptian elections should have "clear standards for participation and a democratic institutional framework."
Lebanon came up again and, when it did, Steinberg said economic and military assistance programs to that country were under "constant review."
Steinberg faced numerous questions about the Muslim Brotherhood, the longtime Egyptian Islamic political party that continues to exist, though it was officially banned by the Mubarak government.
In her opening remarks, Ros-Lehtinen said, "Engaging the Muslim Brotherhood must not be on the table."
Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.) asked whether the administration "is making a priority of preventing the Muslim Brotherhood from stepping in."