Actor and activist Ben Affleck dazzled a Senate panel Wednesday in his testimony on the struggles of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Republicans and Democrats lined up to assure the Argo director that he was not like other celebrity activists who often lack the expertise and commitment to various pet causes. Throughout the hearing, cameras clicked wildly and attendees positioned themselves for smartphone selfies and autographs.
"Your credibility is really remarkable because of the depth of your commitment," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said.
"So often we get celebrities and it’s as much about them as it is about the issue," added Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho).
"I assure you it’s partially about him," joked McCain.
Affleck testified about his economic development work in the central African country, which has been plagued by disease, violence, and malnourishment for decades due to ethnic rivalries and a competition for gold, copper, and diamond resources.
Testifying alongside Russell Feingold, the U.S. special envoy for the Great Lakes region and Congo, and Roger Meece, former U.S. ambassador to Congo, Affleck urged the Obama administration and Congress to play a greater role in the DRC’s future.
"Our work in DRC is not finished," said Affleck. "We cannot risk diminished U.S. leadership at a time when lasting peace and stability are within reach."
The actor urged President Barack Obama to encourage DRC President Joseph Kabila to make needed security reforms and ensure that the country held free and fair elections. He also called on USAID to scale up its development initiatives in eastern Congo and bolster its agricultural sector.
Many of the goals were in line with Affleck’s work as founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative, a philanthropic organization that connects donors with Congolese nonprofits rather than channeling money into large international NGOs.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said she looked forward to working with Affleck’s organization and added to the choir of lawmakers commending Affleck’s work.
"We’re getting some wicked smart answers," added Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) in the patois of Affleck’s hometown of Boston.
Even Africa experts, skeptical of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s ability to hold substantive hearings, complimented Affleck’s seriousness of purpose. "His testimony reflected solid knowledge and contained specific recommendations that show familiarity with the crisis and ideas about how to resolve the conflict," Laura Seay, a Congo expert at Colby College, told The Cable. "I particularly appreciated Affleck’s emphasis on the need to provide more support to civil society organizations, which, to her credit, Senator Boxer did engage."
Seay did say, however, that the hearing failed to cover much new ground. "This hearing contained little information that was new or particularly revolutionary," she said. "There is not enough attention on areas like justice sector reform, economic development, and support for civil society that are necessary for DRC to reach a sustainable peace."
In any event, Affleck’s celebrity presence guaranteed a packed committee hearing with triple the press attendance than most hearings on Africa garner. Keenly aware that the public knows him better for The Town and Good Will Hunting, Affleck humbled himself before the committee.
"I am, to state the obvious, not a Congo expert," said the actor. "I am an American working to do my part for a country and a people I believe in and care deeply about."
Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge.| The E-Ring |
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a senior editor at The National Interest. Prior to Fletcher, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Drezner has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Harvard University. He has previously held positions with Civic Education Project, the RAND Corporation, and the Treasury Department.| Daniel W. Drezner |