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Monday, 15 March 2010
Key Democrat Breaks with Obama on South Asia
Gary Ackerman is a 14-term Democratic Congressman, representing New York’s fifth district, which includes parts of Queens and Long Island. And as such, Ackerman holds the panoply of positions one would expect from a New York Democrat. He strongly supports current legislation that would result in a government takeover of the nation’s health care system. He has been given a 100 by NARAL Pro Choice America and even voted twice against bans on partial birth abortion. The NRA gives him an “F” for his votes on gun control. Immigration reform groups rate him as having an “open borders” stance.   Plus, Ackerman opposes the death penalty, school prayer, the Patriot Act, and, well, you can pretty much fill in the rest. Yes, there is no doubt that Congressman Gary Ackerman is an ideological liberal and an almost certain vote for the Democrats in Congress.
 
Ackerman, however, is also Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia House Foreign Affairs Committee. While conservatives might have solid, even passionate, disagreements with Ackerman on many issues, there is no question that he is one of Congress’s most knowledgeable members when it comes to that part of the world. His sentiments in that regard are rather clear, too, as his web site notes that his subcommittee “has jurisdiction over United States policy towards all countries in the Middle East and South Asia, including important U.S. allies Israel and India”[emphasis mine]. That should not be passed over lightly. Ever since the 1950s when Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru allied his county with the Soviet Union, the US-India relationship has been a rocky one. More recently, President Obama dismissed Indian anti-terror efforts in Kashmir and increased aid to India’s enemy, Pakistan; even though former Pakistani Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf and others have admitted that much of that aid goes to building attacks against India. Nor is there any doubt that the Obama administration is at best ambiguous about how important an ally Israel is. In 2008, Ackerman co-sponsored a resolution with GOP Congressman Mike Pence declaring Iran to be a threat to “the vital national security interests of the United States" and demanding a full-scale naval, air and land blockade. Ackerman is also a fierce critic of the anti-Israel Goldstone Report.
 
My own path crossed with Ackerman’s briefly in 2007 when he was Democratic floor leader during debate on a resolution that called on Bangladesh to drop its false charges against Muslim Zionist and anti-Islamist journalist, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. The legislation was authored by Congressman Mark Kirk, Republican from suburban Chicago and currently a candidate for the Senate seat once held by Barack Obama. Kirk and I together have championed Choudhury’s cause and were able to free him from 17 months of imprisonment and torture.   Ackerman spoke passionately in support of Choudhury.
 
Ackerman, however, might have saved his strongest and most stunning remarks for a March 11 Subcommittee hearing entitled: “Bad Company: Lashkar e-Tayyiba and the Growing Ambition of Islamist Militancy in Pakistan”; a title that is at variance with Obama’s Af-Pak policy, which focuses almost exclusively on al Qaeda and the Taliban. Beyond that, in his March 2009 speech announcing that policy, Obama targeted al Qaeda and the Taliban as our enemies but also made it clear that he considers the rest of Pakistan our friends and allies. In his opening statement at that hearing, Ackerman identified a far more general problem, “Islamist Militancy in Pakistan,” that goes well beyond Obama’s narrow definition:
 
While U.S. attention has focused primarily on al-Qaida, and the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, the Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT) and other violent, Islamist extremist groups in Pakistan have been growing in both capability and ambition. As was demonstrated in the horrific Mumbai attack of November 2008, the al-Qaida model of perpetrating highly visible, mass-casualty attacks appears to have migrated, with enormous potential consequences for the United States.
 
But the New York Democrat was only getting started.

We need to take this threat very, very seriously. The LeT is a deadly serious group of fanatics.They are well financed, ambitious, and most disturbingly, both tolerated by, and connected to, the Pakistani military [emphasis mine].
 
While Pakistan’s longstanding support for Islamists is an open secret, this public statement was a stinging rebuke and rejection of the Obama administration's entire South Asia policy. In fact, he said, this terrorist group “was set up with help from the Pakistani military as a proxy weapon” to use against India. He also accused the Pakistani military of paying compensation to families of the terrorists who killed almost 200 people in the November 26, 2008, attack on Mumbai. “These are our allies in the war on terror,” he adds contemptuously.

Beyond excoriating Pakistan and the fantasy of considering it an ally, Ackerman makes it clear that he recognizes Islamist goals as going far beyond parochial issues tied to any particular piece of real estate: “The LeT's true goal is not Kashmir, it is India [and] to establish an Islamic state in all of South Asia. Neither does it hide or try to play down its declaration of war against all Hindus and Jews.” Indians and Israelis have been trying without success to get the Obama administration to understand that the conflicts are not about Kashmir, Jerusalem, or any other phony issues.
 
In that March speech, Obama called for “a regional solution” but otherwise dismissed India as a key ally. In fact, he could have mentioned that for the ten days proceeding that speech, Indians were engaged in heated battles with Lashkar and defeating them quite handily. But he did not, and US representatives including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, South Asia Czar Richard Holbrooke, and Senator John Kerry have assiduously avoided even a perception of supporting India’s anti-terrorist chops or its right to self-defense from relentless terrorists based in a neighboring country; which sounds disturbingly like its actions toward Israel.

So, what does Ackerman suggest we do? Plenty!
 
This group of savages needs to be crushed. Not in a month. Not in a year. Not when the situation stabilizes in Afghanistan. Not when things are under control in Pakistan. Now. Today and everyday going forward. We’re not doing it, and we’re not effectively leading a global effort to do it.
 
Had a conservative Republican made that statement, the media would be publishing screeds that yelled, “War monger.” But the fact is that Ackerman is not a conservative Republican. He is a liberal Democrat and not even a consistent foreign policy hawk. For instance, in 2007 he voted to start deploying troops out of Iraq in 90 days; he opposed measures to restrict funds for the UN; he supports Congressional oversight of CIA interrogations; and way back when voted against SDI. That is one of the things that make last week’s strongly-worded statement so significant.
 
While chastising Israel, last week Vice President Joe Biden said, “Sometimes only a friend can deliver the hardest truth.” Perhaps the Obama administration needs not take its own advice and listen to what Congressman Ackerman is telling them. If not, he warned, “we’re going to regret this mistake. We’re going to regret it bitterly.”
Posted on 03/15/2010 5:18 PM by Richard L. Benkin
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