x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

The case for more US delegations

If more members of US Congress visited the UAE and other GCC nations, would the standing of the southern Gulf improve in the US Government's legislative branch?

Travel, the Mark Twain quote goes, is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness. “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things,” he continued, “cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all one’s lifetime.” ­Applying Twain’s 1869 dictum to the modern era, it seems particularly apt when addressing the paucity of visits to the region by members of Congress in the US.

By contrast to the White House, with which GCC governments have traditionally ­enjoyed warm relations regardless of whether the incumbent is a ­Republican or a Democrat, the legislative branch of US government has been a little more distant. This should change.

Every year, members of Congress embark on fact-finding missions around the world. Especially since a crackdown in the early 2000s against travel sponsored by corporations, this has generally been conducted on the US taxpayers’ dime. While many of these trips are visits to pleasant European capitals, a few go to the Middle East but of these, a disproportionate number travel to Israel.

One reason for this is because of travel grants made by the American Israel Education Foundation, part of the powerful pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, which funds what it calls “educational seminars to Israel ... to help educate political leaders and influentials about the importance of the US-Israel relationship through firsthand experiences in Israel, briefings by experts on Middle East affairs, and meetings with Israeli political elite”.

It is no secret that the pro-Israel lobby’s greatest influence lies with members of the House of Representatives and, to a slightly lesser extent, the Senate. Members of either house who travel to Israel are likely to return with a distorted view both of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and its relations with the wider region.

These same representatives should be encouraged to broaden their perspectives and see both sides of the debate. They should take a greater interest in what lies beyond Israel’s borders and in seeing the facts on the ground in the region as a whole.

Let’s not forget that The Innocents Abroad, the book from which Twain’s travel quote originates, included travel to the Holy Land, where he confronts prejudices his US upbringing had preconditioned in him. Who knows? It might even work on American politicians.