Riverdale’s Rep. Eliot Engel is the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee. Last week, he weighed in on a variety of international and domestic issues.
What is the responsibility of the U.S. toward Iraq as the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria threatens the country with civil war?
I don’t think that we can write it off and say it’s on the other side of the world; they’re all crazy. That’s what the west did with Afghanistan after the Russians rode out of Afghanistan: we walked away and allowed Afghanistan to become a no man’s land. Al Qaeda stepped in and organized and the result was Sept. 11, 2001
We cannot allow these no man’s lands to accumulate and look the other way because they will sure as hell start organizing again for another terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland.
The question that’s harder is what do we do about it.
[Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki has got to be more inclusive and reach out. He’s got to build a multi-ethnic Iraq. If he doesn’t do that, it’s not going to be enough. We’ve got to be sure to work with the Iraqi government, try to give them support, but again be very, very careful not to get in to another kind of a war.
The truth is, right now there are no good choices in Iraq. It’s a very, very dire situation. It almost makes you long for the good old days of Saddam Hussein, and I never thought I’d say that.
What do you think of the USA Freedom Act aimed at curbing collection of ordinary Americans’ data?
Obviously, there’s more that we have to do in that area. We just don’t want a big brother government where people are telling us, trust me, we know better. On the other hand, we don’t want to tie the hands of the people trying to bring down the bad guys.
Do you think the USA Freedom Act will prevent the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA), which authorizes certain National Security Agency requests, from being a rubber stamp?
I’ve always been troubled by the FISA court. We had the original bill [the USA Patriot Act empowering FISA] right after 9/11, and I voted for it. And I have voted against it every time since.
There’s a lot of stuff that troubled civil libertarians that troubled me. I’m not an expert in terms of knowing what kind of surveillance there is and what kind of surveillance there isn’t.
What do you think of the May prisoner swap to get back Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl?
I think the president made the point that we try to bring every soldier home.
I guarantee you there are people who are criticizing him for bringing Bergdahl home who would be the first to criticize him for not bringing him home.
If Bergdahl is found to have deserted, and that hasn’t been proven yet… he should be punished.
What do you think of the price to get Sgt. Bergdahl back – reportedly five top Taliban commanders?
With a lot of these people, as bad as they are, they have been in Guantanamo not being charged. This is the kind of stuff that dictatorships do that we condemn.
I don’t want to release these guys, but if you have evidence, there ought to be a point where you charge them and convict them.