Hank Brown has represented Colorado in Congress since 1980, serving in both the House of Representatives (1980-90) and the Senate (1990 to the present). He is a member of the Senate Budget, Judiciary, and Foreign Relations Committees, and chairman of the latter's Middle East Subcommittee. In an interview with Daniel Pipes and Patrick Clawson on January 11, 1995, Senator Brown gave his views on U.S. policy toward the Middle East.
Middle East Quarterly: The Middle East consumes a very large proportion of U.S. foreign aid. This prompts the question: Do you in principle believe in foreign aid? Is it a useful tool of diplomacy?
Hank Brown: Well, foreign assistance is a tool but one of limited use. It should never be viewed as the only tool or even a primary one. But it has its place, and it can at times be very effective. In the Middle East, our policy is to promote democracy and free enterprise, and in that effort we help Israel to survive. In that sense, aid is appropriate. Aid to Israel is rooted in the conviction that a successful democracy in the Middle East will eventually change that part of the world. This does not mean, however, that we should keep everything as it is; no, we should look at aid with an eye to making changes.
MEQ: You said U.S. policy is to promote democracy and free enterprise, but so far the bulk of American money has gone to Israel and Egypt for reasons having to do with making peace. Do you see that money's going on indefinitely or do you see a cut-off date?
Brown: The aid does not exist in a vacuum but is related to the threat facing Israel. Our commitment is to see Israel survive, and aid is related to that survival. If all threats to Israel vanish, obviously there would be changes in U.S. assistance.
The money going to Egypt is part of our effort to preserve peace and ensure that Israel, the only major functioning democracy, survives. Personally, I believe we need to make changes in the assistance going to Egypt.
MEQ: What precisely?
Brown: We ought to be focused on long-term U.S. interests in the region, and that dictates an interest in seeing Egypt both privatize its economy and democratize its politics. Frankly, the nature of the existing aid program to Egypt does not maximize those goals.
MEQ: What would do so?
Brown: I would like more of our assistance to be focused on privatization assistance rather than focused primarily on military assistance. The Egyptian people have an enormous potential that will only be realized when they move toward privatization in their economy.
MEQ: How about Jordan? Some there are optimistic that the U.S. government will provide large amounts of assistance to that country in the wake of the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty.
Brown: On a per capita basis, we've already been supplying very significant levels of assistance. Looking to the future, Jordan's best hope is for a warm peace. I am very optimistic about the potential economic benefits of Jordan's cooperation with Israel.
To be specific, Jordan and Israel in combination have some of the most spectacular tourist potential of any place on earth. You're going to see, when the peace process is fully implemented, a wonderful boom to both countries' economies. Therefore, the primary focus is going to be economic.
MEQ: At the Middle East economic conference in Morocco last fall, some Middle Eastern officials spoke about large-scale infrastructure projects; should the U.S. government participate in them? The US government has endorsed the concept of a Middle East Development Bank. Do you endorse this idea or, based on the record of development banks elsewhere, are you skeptical?
Brown: We are very interested in encouraging a warm peace between Israel and Jordan and we are ready to help with this. Large projects are a good idea if the economics work out; they should not depend on subsidies. Some intriguing projects have real potential.
MEQ: What about Syria? The Israelis are indicating now that in the case of a peace treaty between Israel and Syria, they would look forward to American aid going to Syria, just as American aid went to Egypt after Egypt made peace with Israel. Do you endorse this concept?
Brown: We ought not send aid to anybody who doesn't want peace. At this point, I don't think we have a framework to conclude that the Syrians are ready to end the state of war that they have declared on Israel.
MEQ: But if they did, would you be open to it?
Brown: Well, my mother always advised me against answering questions of the "Will you marry me if I ask you?" variety.
MEQ: During the cold war, Israel had a strategic utility versus the Soviet Union that is obviously now gone. Does Israel have a new strategic usefulness to the United States in the post-cold war era?
Brown: American foreign policy is focused on expanding freedom around the world, in both economic and political terms. Israel plays a key role because it is a living, breathing example of a democracy in the Middle East, and its success will inspire other countries in the Middle East to emulate it. So its significance goes beyond the Soviet connection.
MEQ: What about other elements of the U.S.-Israel relationship, the nongovernmental side? How important are these in the formation of American foreign policy toward Israel?
Brown: The most significant area will be trade, both in goods and in intellectual property. In a very brief time this will eclipse our other bonds.
MEQ: After all, the first American free trade zone was established in 1984 with Israel.
Brown: Yes, I was one of the many cosponsors of that effort and it took us an enormous step forward. The follow-up can be even more important, as we try and break down other barriers. You're going to see joint economic efforts between the two countries greatly expanded. One of the things we haven't thought much about, at least in public, is the enormous intellectual resources of Israel and how Americans can benefit from these. I'm very optimistic that you will see enormous American benefit from these in the next decade.
MEQ: Any areas in particular?
Brown: It spans a broad spectrum. Israel is a country where you can practically recruit a world-class orchestra on a street corner, and it also boasts far more doctors per capita than any other. We need to find a way to tap those intellectual resources, not just for Israel's good, but for our own good.
You'll see some advances in this regard. Research projects are already locating in Israel; that should increase if -- as I hope will be the case -- technology allows people to be one place and deliver their work electronically to another.
I'd like to add, on a somewhat different topic, that I was bothered then -- and I continue to be distressed -- over the way the U.S. has restricted the immigration of Soviet or Russian Jews to the United States. I understand that this was bowing to the preference of the government of Israel, but it is an enormous mistake for this country to not tap such a tremendous resource. Perhaps we can tap it electronically; still, it is a very misguided immigration policy.
SYRIA AND THE PEACE PROCESS
MEQ: There's a controversy brewing these days about the possible placement of U.S. troops on the Golan Heights to monitor a peace agreement between Syria and Israel. Do you have a position on the issue?
Brown: I've heard about that (laughs). Prime Minister Rabin and I chatted about it when he was in Denver in November.
If the question is, "Is the use of Americans more acceptable as observers rather than armed forces or peace keepers," my answer is yes.
If the question is, "Are you ready to have Americans act as observers in the area," my reply is that the countries involved have not requested the deployment of our troops in any capacity, whether as peacekeepers or observers. Israel and Syria have not reached an agreement. Therefore, it's premature for us to make a judgment.
Any agreement between Israel and Syria first of all must involve a meeting of the minds of those two countries and should be their own product. An agreement cannot and should not be an American product. My sense is that Syria is not ready for such an agreement.
MEQ: So the issue of American troops is another hypothetical that your mother warned you to stay away from?
Brown: Well, I'm saying more than that. The readings I've gotten from Syrian officials,, limited though they are, indicate that they are not ready for a warm peace with Israel, regardless of what concessions Israel makes to them.
MEQ: Secretary of State Baker stated back in July 1994 that Syria and Israel would make a deal by the end of 1994.
Brown: That's why he's not secretary of state (laughs). The two sides have in their employ some of the toughest negotiators I've ever seen. Don't hold your breath waiting for a breakthrough.
MEQ: Do you approve of the Clinton administration's handling of the peace process? Has it been constructive?
Brown: When the history of this episode is written, I don't think historians will look back on the United States and describe it as the savviest of negotiators. They will find other attributes to describe our country's diplomacy; we used to be more savvy negotiators than we are now.
MEQ: A debate has emerged in the past year or so about fundamentalist Islam, and it focuses on the question of whether the U.S. government should engage in dialogue with the fundamentalist Islamic organizations and states or whether we should unalterably oppose them. Is this a valid debate? Do you have a position?
Brown: I'm not aware that fundamentalist groups have made genuine approaches to negotiate with the United States.
MEQ: For example, the FIS [Islamic Salvation Front], the leading fundamentalist group in Algeria, is very eager to talk with the U.S. government, which has had contacts with it.
Brown: Negotiation involves not just an interest in communicating ideas, but an acknowledgement of common purposes, and there is something lacking at this point when it comes to the fundamentalists.
More generally, those who believe that the U.S. role in the Middle East is to discover a magic solution to the region's problems, then impose it on the parties, misunderstand the Middle East.
MEQ: But the fundamentalists seek us out. The blow up buildings in New York, try to blow up an aircraft over Paris, and assault Americans in the Middle East. We're not trying to solve the Middle East's problems; the fundamentalists take aggressive steps and force us to respond. We do have choices: most simply, we can try to co-opt the fundamentalists or we can confront them.
Brown: I'm trying to divide the question. The way we conduct dialogue with Middle Easterners varies, according to who they are and what course they take. Negotiations and questions with regard to Israel and any peace settlement are one issue, negotiations and discussion with groups regarding U.S. interests outside of an Arab-Israeli settlement are another, wholly separate issue.
On the first: The primary parties must do the key negotiating. Our role is to help with communications.
On the second: These groups understand force and little else. We ought to communicate effectively with them, for example as we did with the Libyans. When it comes to those who only understand force, we should deal with them forcibly.
MEQ: Do I also understand you to say that Israel's relations with its neighbors is the most important issue for us, and that other concerns are on the side?
Brown: Both are important, but when it comes to Israel and its neighbors, we must not lose sight of the fact that the primary chemistry of an agreement takes place between those parties. It is not something for the U.S. to impose from the outside.
THE PERSIAN GULF
MEQ: Did President Bush do the right thing when he called the war off against Saddam Husayn, or should he have kept going to Baghdad?
Brown: Anybody who thinks it makes sense for the U.S. to occupy a Muslim country with non-Muslim troops is crazy. We are not good at occupying countries. It would have been a disaster for us to attempt to occupy Iraq.
At the same time, it's appropriate for us to respond to the aggression of Saddam Husayn. We ought to make it very clear that we insist on his complying with all the United Nations demands.
MEQ: What about Saudi Arabia? Voices in this country increasingly argue that the government there is repressive and say we should press it to open up the system. Others say no, the dangers are too great, for our priority is a stable Saudi Arabia producing a lot of oil. What's your view: Should we take chances on pressuring for a democratic Saudi Arabia?
Brown: Every people would like to remake the world in its own image, and Americans are no exception. We are convinced that the world would be better off if it were more like ourselves. Having said that, I think we understand this transformation is not going to take place overnight.
People forget that the single most successful form of persuasion is not invading a country or compelling others to do as you say but to show how well our way works. If it's a question of giving guidance to other countries, it starts with making the American system work.
THE SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE
MEQ: After eight years, the Republicans are back in the majority in the Senate and can set the agenda. Do you have any plans for the Middle East Subcommittee?
Brown: Yes. I hope the committee will be much more aggressive than in the past, particularly on the subject of terrorism. We've had some success in past years moving legislation in this area, eliminating the loopholes that accommodate terrorism in our law, but now we must make it a top priority.
In addition to legislation, the primary change in the subcommittee is to open its eyes and examine its programs. The committee must end the neglect that characterized the last few years -- a failure to highlight terrorism, a failure to highlight the narcotics and drug problems, and a failure to investigate the impact of our aid programs.
MEQ: Do you see the subcommittee as a forum in which to review American policy?
Brown: I view it as a light to shine in a corner that has not been well illuminated.
MEQ: Do you anticipate hearings on the peace process?
Brown: Yes. Also on terrorism and drug trade. And on other matters too. Jordan violated the embargo on Iraq even as American troops were at war with Iraq, and the committee closed its eyes to these violations. That's not going to happen again. Also, we've insisted that most U.S. money going to Egypt be spent on the military, not on privatizing the economy, then never looked at the impact of that decision.
We're going to take the blinders off of foreign policy in the Middle East.