A Quaker Lobby in the Public Interest
Creating the Architecture for a New U.S. Foreign PolicyJim Fine, FCNL Legislative Secretary
As an FCNL lobbyist, I spend a lot of time working with people around the country to persuade Congress to pass or block legislation that will change U.S. foreign policy. In recent months, FCNL has played important roles in passing legislation to ban permanent U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, as well as in Iraq, and has helped to derail dangerous legislation that would have preempted President Barack Obama's diplomatic overtures to Iran.
Yet passing legislation is not always the primary goal of our work. Our goal is to change U.S. policy in the direction of the world we seek. In nearly three years of work here in Washington, I've discovered that we often need to lay the foundation for policy change through congressional hearings, marker legislation that establishes a new framework for policy but may never become law, encouraging members of Congress to cosponsor legislation that may never come to a vote but creates space for debate, and other efforts that may not even receive public notice. In short, our goal is to create a congressional climate conducive to constructive executive branch action.
Nowhere is this more evident than in our work to build support for a new U.S. policy in the greater Middle East. The elements of the new policy can be seen in the different pieces of legislation that FCNL promoted and lobbied for in recent months. Not all of this legislation will become law, but some of it will, and other pieces of legislation are already providing us with an opportunity to change the direction and tone of the conversation here in Washington. Here's a short compilation:
Legislation to require a U.S. exit strategy from Afghanistan (H.R. 2404): Our first attempt to pass this legislation requiring the administration to develop a plan for getting military troops out of Afghanistan failed in the House by a vote of 138 to 278. Yet even members who voted against this legislation say they may not support more troops and will want to see an exit strategy by next year.
Recognizing the U.S. agreement to withdraw from Iraq by December 2011: When some U.S. military leaders started hinting that the U.S. might have to stay in Iraq for another decade, FCNL worked to secure House passage of legislative language affirming our country's legal agreement with Iraq to withdrawal all U.S. military troops from that country by December 31, 2011. The legislation also requires reporting every three months on progress in ending U.S. military involvement in Iraq.
Support diplomatic engagement with Iran: Last year, FCNL led the successful effort to block House action on H.Con.Res. 362 which called for a blockade of Iran. Our principal focus this year has been to block passage of legislation such as H.R. 2194 that would impose a gasoline embargo on Iran, and, so far, we've succeeded. FCNL is also working to support small, bilateral diplomatic steps with Iran, such as a U.S.-Iran "incidents at sea" agreement (H.Con.Res. 94). If enacted, it would establish processes to ensure that a misunderstanding doesn't escalate into an unintended armed conflict.
Support a new policy toward Israeli-Palestinian peace (H.Res. 130): A bipartisan group of 106 representatives has cosponsored this legislation to endorse President Obama's call for a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It says a negotiated peace is essential to U.S. national interests, and it supports the mission of Middle East envoy George Mitchell.