Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) began serving his 11th term in Congress this year and assumed the gavel of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The California native, who along with his wife Marie can often be seen at embassy receptions and other functions around town, met with The Washington Diplomat in his Rayburn office last month for a Q&A.
He wore a navy blue suit, powder blue shirt and a necktie of regal blue argyle, all of which contrasted with his face, which looked like it had been stamped by the midday sun in his Orange County district. He settled into an armchair near the room’s center, hoisted one leg atop of the other, clasped his hands and slowly, deliberately responded to questions about his motivations, what he thinks is right and wrong with the world, and the changes he hopes to effect in his role as a legislator and committee leader.
The Washington Diplomat: You were born in 1951, and you’ve been alive for many tremendous events. Can you name one that shaped how you see the world and America’s role in it?
Royce: Well, it was an event that occurred before I was born, actually. But at the end of the Second World War, my father was with Allied forces when Dachau was liberated, and he took photographs of the consequences of what happened at that concentration camp. I think his photos and his reaction to them sort of shaped my thinking — his trying to confront those who denied the existence of the Holocaust and his efforts to teach students about the consequences of foreign policy when societies try to ignore the intentions of those who harbor an impulse to exterminate a race.
TWD: In May, you introduced a bill that would reform the way America delivers food aid to foreign countries. Why do you support changing our approach and the new policies outlined in the bill?
Royce: One of the steps that we could take to make foreign aid more efficient is to reform the process so that emergency and development assistance is received quickly and at less cost. The current method of monetization and procedures whereby agricultural products are purchased here and then shipped on U.S.-flagged vessels make the delivery of aid not only much more expensive but a far slower process. And it also has, in the view of the GAO (Government Accountability Office), the adverse consequence of dumping U.S. products on local markets to the detriment of indigenous farmers. The most efficient approach with respect to delivery of aid is to allow funds to be spent immediately at the source in order to deal with emergencies and to deal with an ever-tightening budget.
TWD: This is reform that the White House also supports.
Royce: Myself and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) have authored legislation to move through committee, and we are supporting the White House initiative. I think our advocacy for this issue might predate the White House’s initiative, but, yes, we are in concurrence with the White House.
TWD: Do you see other opportunities for consensus with the White House, the Senate or the other side of the aisle that might not be apparent to the public?
Royce: In the past, I was the co-author of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), as well as the initiative for the free trade agreement with South Korea. And so with prior administrations and with this one, we were able to secure bipartisan cooperation, including cooperation from the administration.
As we move forward over the next five years, there will be $22 trillion worth of new economic wealth created on this planet, and $11 trillion of it will be in Asia. The White House and Congress have an opportunity to work together on market-access issues to make certain that the United States is integrally engaged in this growth. Over the past few years, the United States has been a party to only three trade agreements in the Asia-Pacific region, the most recent being the one with South Korea, prior to that with Australia and Singapore. But during that timeframe there have been 180 agreements between Asia-Pacific countries. Clearly, the U.S. needs to be more engaged. In setting the framework for our economic involvement in East Asia and South Asia — and with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that’s under consideration — we have that opportunity.
Myself and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, took a trip to five countries in Asia. We found that our traditional allies in the region are very interested in TPP and in moving forward. In the same manner, Europe is interested in a free trade agreement with the United States. We’ve met frequently with delegations from Europe who have expressed an interest in doing this sooner rather than later, and that synergy would lower tariffs for U.S. exports, since in most cases tariff barriers are higher in Europe than they are here. And it would give us additional net export opportunities into these markets.
TWD: You arrived on Capitol Hill in the early 1990s. Why did you become interested in foreign policy, and what lesson did you learn in your early years as a congressman that you still return to today?
Royce: One of the lessons I learned is that you have to work in concert with members and get them to visualize the positive consequences of mutual cooperation. AGOA would be the first example of that. That was a bipartisan initiative in which we were ultimately able to convince the Clinton administration to be supportive. Subsequently, the Bush administration supported AGOA when we needed to extend it.
But I would also cite our efforts to bring to the bar of justice both President Charles Taylor of Liberia as well as Viktor Bout, the gunrunner who was providing arms to that warlord and many others in Africa, often supporting both sides of a conflict, as he did in Afghanistan, where he simultaneously armed the Northern Alliance as well as the Taliban. The bloody consequences of the weapons transfers that Bout made to Taylor — and what Taylor did with them — could be seen in Sierra Leone, Liberia and all across West Africa. Bout’s actions also had a devastating effect in Congo and Central Africa.
In these two cases, I led the effort to build a bipartisan coalition so we could target those who were engaged in crimes against humanity and have them brought into custody. That taught me a lesson on how to send a message that there would be very real consequences for war crimes in the developing world. Today, I am involved in an effort along with Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) to use U.S. special operations and American intelligence resources to track Joseph Kony, who, like Charles Taylor before him, recruited child soldiers, created mayhem and committed atrocities against women and children, including mass amputations. In Kony’s case, he has operated with impunity for over 18 years in the Central African Republic, in Sudan, in Uganda and in eastern Congo. But with the legislation we’ve passed, we’re hopeful that, just as with Charles Taylor and Viktor Bout, we’ll have an opportunity to set one more example once he’s brought into custody.
So, to answer your question about why I became interested in foreign policy, it was very much because of the wider issues of human rights and genocide. It was with an understanding that these events are real and they can destroy hundreds of thousands of lives. It was with a recognition that the United States has the capability, when engaged, to help head off genocidal acts and mass killings. I think we have a responsibility. And we can do it best when we have a bipartisan effort that’s focused on educating our members and then using our collective strength to move legislation and prompt initiatives on the part of the administration.
TWD: When young lawmakers arrive in Congress, they often have to deal with laws affecting places that they haven’t had a chance to visit yet…
Royce: I chaired the African subcommittee for eight years, so I’ve traveled to most of the countries in Africa…
TWD: So what’s something from your travels that taught you a lesson about the world?
Royce: I took a trip into Darfur, Sudan, in order to document the genocide that we were certain was under way. We brought Don Cheadle and Paul Rusesabagina (Cheadle played Rusesabagina in the movie “Hotel Rwanda”). John Prendergast (a human rights activist) also went with us. The thinking was that if we could document the genocidal acts that were occurring, we might be able to prompt the international community to take action. We spent part of the time in Chad with refugees who had recently fled across the border and part of the time in Darfur. It was there that we visited a town, Tine, that had nearly been erased from the map by attacks. But we were able to interview the survivors, and I remember a young boy who started to hold out his arm, and then he offered his other arm. One hand had been severed. I asked him how he lost his hand. He said it was the Janjaweed (an Arab militia), and he made the motion of a sword.
The children had drawn us pictures of the attack on their village, and in those pictures there were the Janjaweed. But there were also the forces of the Sudanese government — the forces of the National Islamic Front. In the children’s pictures, there were soldiers in half-tracks and Antonov planes dropping bombs on the village. The point is that while the government in Khartoum was rationalizing what was happening in Darfur as attacks done by the Janjaweed on the indigenous people, it was in fact the case that the Khartoum government was behind the attacks themselves — attacks that commenced with aerial bombardment and were followed up with armored infantry. Only afterward did the Janjaweed come in to finish the job on the women and children. This genocide was much more than Janjaweed murdering black Darfurians; it was orchestrated at the highest levels. And we documented that. I interviewed a number of the survivors for the “Nightline” camera crew that was there, and that program did an exposé on the nature of this genocide.
After the Second World War, the United States said never again would we permit the slaughter of a race. And yet today we have genocidal acts occurring without adequate engagement on the part of the NGO community, although I make a big exception here for the work of John Prendergast and Enough, Resolve and other organizations that are on the ground, trying. But there is not enough time and effort going into countering these types of crimes against humanity — certainly, not on the part of administrations in Washington. One of my hopes is that in working in a bipartisan way, like we did in Sierra Leone and Liberia, we might have further progress in bringing to the bar of justice President Omar al-Bashir and others in Khartoum who have been involved in orchestrating the genocide in Darfur.
TWD: Samantha Power was just named the American envoy to the United Nations. She’s also been critical of how the U.S. has responded — or not responded — to allegations of genocide. What’s your response to her appointment?
Royce: Well, my hope is that action follows talk.
TWD: History has shown that sanctions don’t always yield the results that America intended for them to achieve — Cuba being one example. You’ve introduced bills that impose sanctions against Iran and North Korea. Can these measures meet their goals? How?
Royce: Stuart Levey was the undersecretary to the Treasury for two administrations. In 2005, he devised a strategy in response to North Korea counterfeiting hundred-dollar notes. Stuart imposed economic sanctions on the Bank of Macau and several additional banks that the North Korean government was utilizing for illicit activity. He gave those financial institutions a choice: do business with the United States or with North Korea. He announced that all North Korean accounts should be frozen. The consequence, based upon our interviews with North Korean defectors, including the former minister of propaganda and someone who worked on missile sites, was that everything came to a halt in North Korea during that period of time. There wasn’t the hard currency to pay the generals, which is always a problem if you are a dictator. Nor was there the money to buy on the black market the Japanese-made gyroscopes necessary for the missiles. Nor was there the money to purchase the raw materials to keep open the missile-production line.
While those sanctions were in place, it was a time of implosion within the North Korean economy. Kim Jong-il appealed to our State Department, falsely contending that he would come back to negotiate in good faith. And the Department of State trumped the Department of Treasury and lifted those sanctions. But I believe that our undersecretary of Treasury was correct. Sanctions today can have every bit as powerful of an effect as the ones that were imposed against South Africa in a bipartisan agreement, over the will of President Reagan. They not only helped bring an end to apartheid, but they also pressured the South African government to turn over the atomic weapon it had developed. Sanctions can be enormously effective if done in a way in which you close loopholes and give the regime a choice between its continued survival versus a compromise on ending its nuclear program.
Likewise, we are left with the choice of whether we attempt to use full-throttled sanctions to deter Iran. What that would necessitate is freezing the Iranian foreign reserves held in banks across the world and preventing the repatriation of those earnings. Our legislation does that. It would require ratcheting down the sales of Iranian crude to an average of $1 million a day, which, with the additional oil on the world market, we’re now able to do. The previous sanctions the United States has already put in place have reduced the revenues from Iran’s oil, which is their principal export, by 40 percent. But in addition to further reducing the profits from petroleum, in this legislation we’re also able to target the automobile sector, the construction sector and other sectors of the economy, which will add further pressure to the Iranian regime. We also target those who are involved in violations of human rights in Iran and sanction them by limiting their ability to travel or move profits offshore.
The bottom line is this: As with South Africa, as pressure is applied, we can see the consequences. There’s already hyperinflation in Iran. If crippling sanctions make the monetary unit worthless, this approach ultimately will force the government in Iran to make that choice of either giving up its desire for a nuclear weapons capability or being able to hang onto power. According to the last Gallup poll that I saw, two-thirds of Iran’s population wants a regime that is not theocratic. And because the Ayatollah (Khamenei) has to contend with that popular sentiment, the deprivations that are caused by both the economic illiteracy of the regime as well as the sanctions that are imposed can drive that regime toward choosing to compromise on its nuclear ambitions.
*This interview was lightly edited for grammar, clarity and length.
About the Author
Luke Jerod Kummer is the congressional correspondent for The Washington Diplomat.