New Hampshire is a small state. Unlike Texas, California or New York, there are only two U.S. House representatives from New Hampshire, Rep. Kuster and Rep. Shea-Porter. As such, neither representative just represents their congressional district, just as neither U.S. senator from New Hampshire, Sen. Ayotte nor Sen. Shaheen, represents just one part of the state; many of the issues and concerns facing a small state like New Hampshire transcend a fixed line on a map.
When our representatives act and speak, they are doing so for all of New Hampshire. When they say something stupid or act inappropriately, it reflects poorly on all of us. That is why this past week the controversy regarding Rep. Kuster’s Libya gaffe should concern all New Hampshirites. The gaffe occurred while Kuster was making an appearance in Manchester at the Jewish Federation of New Hampshire to talk about Middle East relations. The issue of the murders in Benghazi (Sept. 11, 2012) came up during the question-and-answer period.
Kuster’s indifference toward her constituents and lack of knowledge on a key House issue made the incident a national story, and feeds into a larger narrative of our interaction with those public servants duly sworn to serve us.
Before I comment on the three key points regarding Kuster’s gaffe, I want to be fair. The following is the actual, although brief, transcript of the exchange Kuster had (to see the full video, go to this link at Real Clear Politics, http://bit.ly/1cr0YZk):
Kuster (reading from a submitted question): “OK. First, can you please let me know your position on House Resolution 36 that will authorize the select committee to get to the bottom of Benghazi?′ I don’t have — it’s a Senate, I think — I don’t think we have anything about that in the House. And yes, the rest of this is also on Benghazi, so…”
Participant one: “Can you address Benghazi? What are you going to do about Benghazi? Why isn’t Benghazi at the top of your issue?”
Kuster: “Well, I’m certainly not here to talk about it. We’re here to talk about the Middle East.”
Participant one: “That is the Middle East.”
Participant two: “Libya is like right in the middle of the Middle East.”
Participant one: “Benghazi is the Middle East.”
Unidentified voice: “There are a lot of different ideas, a lot of differing views here. But the congresswoman is nice enough to share her views on Israel if you have any questions on the topic, and have a civil discussion. We’re going to stick to the format of answering questions on that issue.”
First, the bill in question, H.Res.36, does actually exist and has for a year. H.Res.36 currently has 179 co-sponsors. We do not expect our representatives to know about every piece of legislation working its way through Congress, but this is a major piece of legislation with a large number of Kuster’s colleagues advocating for its passage. Additionally, it seeks to investigate one of the greatest blunders in U.S. foreign policy and counter-terrorism intelligence, the destruction of a U.S. consultant and the murder of four Americans, including our ambassador to Libya. Kuster’s lack of knowledge of the House bill and seemly unsympathetic attitude is troubling.
Second, Libya is part of the geopolitical understanding of those countries considered part of the Middle East. Prior to Kuster’s mistake, this was not a matter of discussion. More important, the issue of Benghazi and Libya is a major concern to Israel, in large part because post-Gadhafi Libyan weapons and terrorist recruits are still being smuggled into Israel by al-Qaida.
Israel saw the attack in Benghazi and the violence in Libya as a direct threat to the Israeli people. Had Kuster and her staff done their due diligence prior to walking into an organization representing the interest of the Jewish community, Kuster should have known the topic of Benghazi would be important to many members in the audience. More alarming, however, was the simple truth that Libya is considered part of our Middle Eastern mission. Kuster should be embarrassed by her misunderstanding of the region. This misunderstanding is even more baffling because in a past interview she identified Libya as part of the Middle East while supporting President Obama’s military intervention in the region (http://bit.ly/1bLjhfd): “Kuster said she supports Obama’s recent action in response to unrest in the Middle East. She said she felt the military intervention in Libya is appropriate…;”
Third, lack of knowledge and apathy aside, the question was fair and deserved an answer. It was on topic and was submitted based on the rules established by the forum. The question was pre-submitted and one can only presume screened by Kuster’s staff. If not, they were fools for putting Kuster in a position she was sadly ill-prepared to handle.
Finally, I hope we can all take exception with the comment by the still unidentified person at the end of the video, when he stated “the congresswoman is nice enough to share her views on Israel if you have any questions on the topic, and have a civil discussion.” Nice enough? Hardly. It is her civic duty. Kuster serves at the leisure of her constituents, period. Nice has nothing to do with it. As a representative of New Hampshire, she has the moral duty to not only appear before the people, but also answer their fair and honest questions. Anything short of that, as what was demonstrated in the video, neglects that obligation and fails her constituents.