Grossman Column: Zeldin won’t back down from conflict with ISIS

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) is a House Foreign Affairs Committee member. (Courtesy file photo)
Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) is a House Foreign Affairs Committee member. (Courtesy file photo)

In Lee Zeldin, Eastern Long Island has sent to Congress someone who in just two months in office has become a national figure taking on radical Islam.

The rapid rise to prominence of Mr. Zeldin comes as ISIS conducts beheadings, burns alive a captured Jordanian pilot, abducts and rapes women and carries out other heinous, barbarous acts.

At issue at a recent meeting of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to which Mr. Zeldin was appointed by the House Republican leadership, a rarity for a freshman member, was ISIS and President Obama’s submission to Congress of a war powers measure to fight it.

Mr. Zeldin, of Shirley, declared, “My litmus test is going to be very simple. Are we doing absolutely everything in our power to ensure that we win?”

He spoke of a speech by Mr. Obama in September in which he was “talking about dropping bombs and the reliance on Iraqi military and law enforcement to do the job. When I was in Iraq in 2006, it was an accomplishment to get them to show up for work,” and that was in spite of “expecting no threats that day.”

Mr. Zeldin was a U.S. Army officer with the 82nd Airborne Division.

“So relying on elements on the ground who have no morale, no patriotism, they don’t have the resources, they don’t have the training, they don’t have the will,” he said, “is something that we have to take into account.”

The U.S., he continued, “has the best special operations forces in the entire world: Army Rangers, Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marines, Delta Force. When we talk about boots on the ground, we’re not talking about restoring occupation.

No one is talking about that. I don’t support that. But I tell you what I do want — for a member of ISIS to sleep with one eye open because they fear an Army Ranger may be visiting their house or their fellow terrorist’s house to put a round of lead between their eyes.”

Mr. Zeldin said there needs to be “understanding if we wait five years, what we are up against is going to be a hundred times greater than it is right now.”

“You cannot simply wish this conflict away,” he added. “Sometimes you look for conflict, but other times, like now, conflict finds you.”

Mr. Zeldin can’t be accused of being an armchair general. After law school, he joined the Army. As a second lieutenant, he was deployed to Iraq with an infantry battalion of fellow paratroopers. He is currently a major in the Army Reserve.

His critical position on President Obama and ISIS is mirrored in national polls. A CBS News/New York Times poll last year found 57 percent of those queried didn’t think the president was sufficiently tough in dealing with ISIS, and an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 68 percent had “very little” or “just some” confidence in Obama’s strategy on ISIS.

CNN last week reported on its new poll that “found 57 percent of Americans disapprove of how Obama is handling the threat posed by ISIS.”

Mr. Zeldin also believes Mr. Obama is soft in negotiations with Iran over nuclear weapons. “I strongly disagree with the president’s continuing effort to win over the Iranian government through acts of kindness,” he stated last month. “It’s a strategy divorced from the reality that the Iranians do not respect weakness, only strength.”

Mr. Zeldin, the only Jewish Republican member of the House, is outraged by what he views as Mr. Obama’s efforts to end Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister of Israel.

On Newsmax TV this month, he cited a U.S. consulting group, 270 Strategies — its founding partner, Jeremy Bird, was national field director of Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign — as working with other former Obama staffers with the Israeli political campaign group V-15 to defeat Netanyahu in Israeli elections next month.

Further, Mr. Zeldin is irritated by the plan by some Democrats in Congress not to attend Mr. Netanyahu’s planned address to Congress. He sees this as linked to Mr. Obama’s refusal to meet with the prime minister when he comes to Washington for the speech.

“Israel is our strongest ally, and in an area of the world that is facing the rising tide of radical Islamic extremism and state sponsorship of terrorism in pursuit of nuclear capacity,” Mr. Zeldin told Washington-based Politico. “It really should be a nobrainer to warmly embrace the leader of Israel, no matter who that person is ever, without missing a beat.”

grossman_karl150 Karl Grossman’s syndicated “Suffolk Closeup” column is printed in the Shelter Island Reporter, a Times/Review Newsgroup publication.