Issa will thus have an opportunity to prove his mettle over the next two years. Heretofore, he’s largely occupied the role of “critic at large,” finding fault where there was fault to found, but not occupying the kind of leadership role that would require him to make tough decisions himself. He’s a favorite of the Right because he speaks plainly and he clearly takes the time to educate himself in detail on a topic before commenting. Darrell Issa is a smart guy with an attractive vision of the way the world ought to look. The question will be how well he can walk that fine line between principle and pragmatic politics.
Despite his hard-edged reputation, Issa’s approach to the Middle East – and he has obviously spent a great deal of time mulling over the challenges of the region – reveals a man who believes that a point of compromise can always be found, even among the most uncompromising of foes. Removed from their larger context, some of Issa’s remarks over the years seem to be attempts to undermine Israel. He looked to Syria for leadership in the Arab world soon after 9-11 and he still expresses sympathy for the plight of Palestinians living in Gaza, for example. Yet, these kind of remarks are not indicative of an anti-Semite (as some of Issa’s opponents have claimed), but of rather, yet another example of a Westerner who views the challenges confronting the Middle East through Western eyes and assumes all parties involved share Western values. Issa obviously still believes that the “good Muslim” governments in the region can be separated from “bad Muslim” governments, if only the US would take a bold step forward to express our undivided support for the former and our disdain for the latter. Thus, when Issa looked to Syria for leadership after 9-11, it was because he believed that Bashir Assad was what he purported to be: a moderate who had turned his back on his father’s policies. When Issa talks about Gaza, he expresses his conviction that the Palestinians in Gaza are suffering under corrupt leadership just as Israelis have suffered from that leadership’s unprovoked attacks. His solution is to find benevolent leadership for the Palestinians that would do better for those living in Gaza and would also make peace with Israel. That’s a noble, if terribly naïve vision.
Yet, Darrell Issa’s influence on foreign policy is going to be negligible, so his misconceptions about the Middle East don’t count for much either way. The most important part of his tenure as chair of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee will involve rooting out waste, exposing bureaucratic excess and exposing failed government policies. Those would appear to be the kind of tasks to which the congressman is uniquely suited. His performance, or lack of same, over the next two years will go a long way towards determining the future course of the nation.
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