Letter to the Editor: Bill Gaston on Congressman Eliot Engel Print


To the Editor:

May 16, 2018:  Last month, a gaudy flyer arrived in my mailbox from our Congressman, Eliot Engel, who is running for re-election this year, as he has every two years since he was first elected in 1988. In the flyer, Mr. Engel boasts of all the progressive legislation he has sponsored, on issues from health care and gun control to climate change and LGBT rights. On his busy laundry list of achievements, however, I noticed one curious omission:  foreign policy. 

Congressman Engel has carved out foreign policy as one of his areas of expertise, and he currently serves as the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Why would the Congressman leave out one of his signature areas of accomplishment? Facing a Democratic primary on June 26, does he think his constituents wouldn’t care? 

Prompted by that mailer, a troubling thought dawned on me: perhaps Congressman Engel doesn’t want his voters to know his record on foreign policy. Is that why he has kept them in the dark?  Keep in mind that if Democrats regain control of the House in 2018, Congressman Engel would likely become chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. What would that mean in terms of US foreign policy, especially as it affects the Middle East? With a combustible president like Donald Trump in the White House, surrounded by hawkish advisors, who really knows?

On Capitol Hill, however, Congressman Engel’s record is well known, and it is not one progressives should applaud. Over the course of 30 years, Engel has displayed an exuberant faith in the blessings of liberal interventionism. That doctrine--barely distinguishable from its failed cousin neoconservatism--has saddled us with costly and destructive misadventures in Iraq, endless belligerence when it comes to Iran, and reflexive support for Israel in its never-ending occupation of Palestinian lands, expansionist settlement policies, and human rights violations. 

Lest we forget, Congressman Engel supported the invasion of Iraq in 2002, widely considered the biggest foreign policy blunder of recent times. He also forcefully opposed President Obama’s 2015 JCPOA (the Iran deal), which president Trump rashly exited last week, to the consternation of our European allies, and which had successfully closed off all plausible paths to an Iranian nuclear weapon. On Syria, he has favored aggressive military action, even without Congressional authorization. On resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Congressman Engel pays lip service to a two-state solution. In practice, however, he has been one of the biggest cheerleaders for the hard-right agenda of AIPAC, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee.  IPAC opposed the JCPOA, supports settlements, and lobbies for billions of dollars annually from US taxpayers to strengthen Israel’s already enormous military-industrial advantage in the region. At a recent Bronxville Village meeting, the Congressman bragged to his constituents that he had attended the annual AIPAC meeting 31 years in a row. Is that something he should be proud of?

To return to my question, should voters care about Congressman Engel’s foreign policy track record? Should this potential chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee be held to account? Actually, Democratic Party voters in the 16th Congressional District may soon have a chance to answer those questions. In a month’s time, Congressman Engel will face a primary contest from two challengers--Derickson Lawrence from Mount Vernon and Jonathan Lewis from Scarsdale. While foreign policy concerns may take a back seat to taxes and health care in this upcoming primary, voters should not overlook Congressman Engel’s horrid foreign policy resume. It is a matter of public record, and immensely consequential.

Bill Gaston   

Editor's note:  MyhometownBronxville does not fact-check statements in letters to the editor, and the opinions do not necessarily reflect the thinking of its staff. Its objective in publishing letters to the editor is to give air to diverse thoughts and opinions of residents in the community.