Congressman Howard Berman is the ranking member (i.e., the senior Democrat when the Republicans have the majority) on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He met with constituents on January 4 at Millikan Middle School in Sherman Oaks. While the meeting’s focus was on domestic issues, several questions were about the Middle East:
Q. What can you say about J Street [the organization that focuses on the Israel-US relationship]?
A. I agree with some of their positions, and disagree with many of their positions. I agree that there should be two states for two peoples–the “two state solution” for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I disagree with the notion that the United States has the ability to force the parties to make peace. And I disagree with J Street’s blaming the failure to achieve peace on American or Israeli inaction. Rather, the reason there isn’t peace between Israel and the Palestinians is that the Palestinians are not prepared to make the compromises necessary for the two-state solution to work.
Q. You played an important role in authorizing the war in Iraq after 9/11. Do you think that was a mistake?
A. I voted for the authorization for essentially one reason. I didn’t believe that Iraq was connected with al Qaeda and 9/11. But I was persuaded that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. This was based on historical evidence, including Saddam’s verified use of chemical weapons against Iraq’s Kurdish population and Saddam’s attempt to build the Osirak nuclear reactor which Israel bombed in 1981. But it turns out that Iraq’s WMD systems were not reconstituted after the first Gulf war. I learned that you need to be more skeptical.
Q. You’ve been partly responsible for America’s confrontational foreign policy, including the recent Iran sanctions act.
A. I disagree with your assumptions. It’s true that we have to consider the consequences of military confrontation with Iran. but we must also consider the consequences of Iran becoming a nuclear military power. For example, Iran’s getting the Bomb will trigger nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, as Iran’s neighbors seek nuclear weapons for protection. If this happens there is a serious risk that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists. This is not an Israeli or Jewish issue–the Saudis and other Gulf countries are afraid of Iran becoming a nuclear power. This threatens the entire region, not just Israel. I’m not advocating military action against Iran. I favor a diplomatic solution, which requires pressure–in other words, sanctions. These new sanctions on Iran’s central bank will cripple Iran’s oil exports. This will cause the regime to rethink its positions.
Q Section 1021 of the NDAA permits the US military to arrest Americans on American soil and hold them indefinitely. How is this different from Nazi Germany?
A. You can’t compare anything Congress does with Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. I voted for the NDAA because it had thousands of other important provisions, including the Iran sanctions act. I’m a co-sponsor of the Garamendi bill to clarify section 1021, to require civilian trials for Americans. That’s the way Obama is interpreting the current bill, but the Garamendi bill makes that interpretation explicit.