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From West Virginia to the Middle East

by Princella D. Smith, Israel Hayom Newspaper  Israel Hayom Princella Cartoon

The United States is internally weighing and debating its role in the Middle East while Egypt and Syria burn and while Israel negotiates peace.

This internal battle can be perceived as somewhat new territory for the United States due to intraparty differences on how to handle the Middle East on both the Democrat and Republican sides of the congressional aisles and in both chambers of Congress.

What Israelis and other interested parties around the world should remember is that with American policies, partisan politics often plays a defining role. It is certain that whatever decisions are made now will be used by both political parties during the 2014 campaign cycle, and in this cycle, Republicans need to flip six seats in order to gain control of the Senate. This is significant because as the upper chamber of the United States Congress, the Senate has a much more powerful role in international affairs. Three conservative-leaning states with retiring Democratic senators — Montana, West Virginia, and South Dakota — seem to be potential flips for Republicans.

Many legislators blame President Obama’s lack of aggressive leadership or even of a consistent set of policies—so much so that as his party’s leader, he has not provided a pathway for his fellow Democrats in Congress to follow and tout as their stance. At the same time, Republicans continue to criticize the President for an inability to assume the United States’ long-time role of being a leader in Middle East affairs. Therefore, while the world eyes policy-based chaos in the Middle East, they can trace it back to the political chaos in the U.S. capital. This has become particularly evident in Egypt.

Republican Senators Kelly Ayotte, John McCain, Bob Corker and Rand Paul each called for a suspension of aid to Egypt with Ayotte stating that President Obama “fell short when he really didn’t come out and call out the real question on the suspension of aid, because that is the real influence that we have with Egypt.” Sen. Paul more colorfully claimed that American aid to Egypt was more likely to fund an Egyptian military leader’s “chateau in Paris” than “bread in Cairo” for the poor.

A fellow Obama Democrat, Representative Keith Ellison who is the nation’s lone Muslim congressional member, said on ABC: “I would cut off aid. In my mind, there’s no way to say that this was not a coup. It is. We should say so. And then we should follow our own law, which says we cannot fund the coup leaders.” On the flip side, Democrat Representatives Eliot Engel and Jack Reed along with Republican Representative Pete King called for flexibility in President Obama’s decision to continue funding.

Princella D. Smith was a communications staffer to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a communications director on Capitol Hill. She is a graduate student at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel and a Humanitarian Ambassador for the Save A Child’s Heart in Holon, Israel.