Clifford Smith, the director of the Middle East Forum's (MEF) Washington Project, interviewed Congressman Doug Lamborn in a December 3 MEF webinar (video) about wide-ranging Mideast issues, the incoming Biden administration's approach to the region, and his work with MEF.
Rep. Lamborn (Republican of Colorado) sits on the House Armed Services and Natural Resources Committees and is co-chair of the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus (CIAC) and a founding member of the Congressional Israel Victory Caucus (CIVC). He addressed the following topics in his interview:
The Israel-Palestinian Conflict
Lamborn, one of the strongest defenders of Israel in Congress, is a strong proponent of the Israel Victory paradigm advanced by MEF President Daniel Pipes, which holds that the Palestinians must be made to accept defeat in their quest to destroy Israel and accept its right to exist as a Jewish state. The end of Palestinian rejectionism will "be for the good of everybody concerned," said Lamborn, especially the Palestinians themselves, who have suffered from "poor leadership."
In the meantime, the U.S. government should have a zero tolerance policy on Palestinian terrorism. Lamborn was the chief sponsor in the House of the Taylor Force Act, named to honor an American veteran murdered in a 2016 terrorist attack in Israel. The act, signed into law by President Trump in 2018, halts U.S. economic aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) until it ceases its "pay to slay" policy of paying terrorists and their families for the murder of innocent Israelis.
Recently, Lamborn sent a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury calling for the designation of PA Prisoners' Affairs Director Qadri Abu Bakr as a sponsor of terror for his role in continuing "pay to slay" payments. The PA then accused Lamborn of "incitement against the Palestinians," but Lamborn responded by calling on the administration to cut all diplomatic ties with the PA until it gives up terrorism.
Lamborn acknowledged there are "valid concerns" that being "tough" on the PA could have unintended consequences, such as Hamas becoming a greater threat to Israel. Although the PA is "not as blatantly and flagrantly terroristic as Hamas or Hezbollah," he said, "they're not far from it" and "sometimes maybe it's better to have an enemy ... that is clear cut in its aims and is out there for everybody to see."
The Abraham Accords
The Trump administration's success in brokering the normalization of Israeli diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Sudan is a monumental foreign policy achievement. "It's good for Israel, it's good for the US, it's good for everyone involved. It's good for the world," said Lamborn.
With "more [countries] waiting in the wings" to make peace with Israel, including Saudi Arabia – the "big kahuna" – the Biden administration is well-poised to consolidate and advance this regional transformation if it wants to. However, with Democrats and the mainstream media discounting the importance of the Abraham Accords, Lamborn is skeptical that Biden will build on this success.
One of the best ways the Biden administration can promote the Arab-Israeli peace process is by continuing the Trump administration's policy of "cracking down on Iran ... and maximizing [economic] sanctions" on its regime. Arab countries are "working together" with Israel "because they fear the bad influence of Iran" and want to counteract it, said Lamborn, an outlook that the Trump administration worked hard to cultivate.
If the Biden administration goes "soft on Iran" and allows it to "continue on its way of funding terrorism and working for the destruction of Israel" without repercussions, Arab states may adopt likeminded appeasement strategies and keep their distance from Israel.
"Whatever we do we can't go back to the horrible Barack Obama policy," which "tried to bribe Iran to ... wait a few years before producing its nuclear bombs" under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which the Trump administration wisely discarded.
The increasingly authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey has sought to disrupt Arab normalization with Israel, while drawing closer to a number of radical organizations and aggressively meddling in the affairs of other states in the region. Erdoğan's acquisition of the S-400 anti-aircraft system from Russia has forced the U.S. to "re-examine and shut down some defense cooperation in the field of aviation with Turkey. ... We can't have our F-35s stationed there anymore."
Lamborn noted that it was "unfortunate" to see Erdoğan turn the ancient Hagia Sophia Cathedral into a mosque, hearkening back to the years "before Turkey ... joined the modern world in the early 20th century." Fortunately, he added, Erdoğan "is not getting any younger and he won't be in power forever."
U.S. Troop Drawdown
Lamborn believes the U.S. troops in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan serve a useful purpose training "indigenous police and security forces" to fight Islamist extremism and terrorism. "If we were to withdraw all at once, it would lead to chaos." Any withdrawal, Lamborn said, "should be done in a measured, proportional and well thought out way, with a lot of input from the people on the ground commanding there." Lamborn emphasized that even though it's unknown what position a Biden administration will take, the congressman will "be speaking ... forcefully wherever I can if they're making mistakes."
Lamborn has taken the lead in pressing the Department of Education to crack down on misuse of federal grants to Middle East studies centers at American universities under Title VI of the Higher Education Act. This program was established during the Cold War to fund foreign language and area studies instruction that advances U.S. national security goals. However, many Middle East studies centers receiving Title VI funding are hotbeds of anti-Semitism, apologetics for terrorism, and demonization of Israel, much to the detriment of U.S. interests.
Lamborn expressed hope that then-Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos would put forth regulations to stop universities from abusing Title VI funding. In June 2020, he sent a letter to the Department of Education alerting it that the University of California at Berkeley's Center for Middle East Studies (CMES) was in violation of the Title VI statute because its instruction was imbalanced and deeply politicized.
In September 2020, Lamborn helped disrupt San Francisco State University's plans to host a virtual lecture by Leila Khaled, an unrepentant Palestinian terrorist who hijacked an airliner and attempted to kill everyone on board. As a result of pressure from Lamborn and others, platforms such as Zoom and YouTube refused to broadcast the event. The Departments of Education, Justice and Treasury opened an investigation into the Khaled lecture because the virtual platform Berkeley afforded her runs afoul of counterterrorism laws.
Congress must be steadfast in "keeping the Biden administration's feet to the fire."
To recap, Lamborn fears that the Biden administration will try to roll back the Trump administration's progress on Israel, Iran, and other Mideast policy issues. "[U]nlike Barack Obama, Donald Trump supported our friends and opposed our enemies, instead of the opposite."
Biden administration officials are "going to want to backtrack on Iran and the nuclear agreement ... [and] maybe not be as aggressive as supporting Israel." Congress must be steadfast in "keeping the Biden administration's feet to the fire," said Lamborn. "I'm going to be speaking out forcefully wherever I can."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.