Twin developments have converged to require an urgent re-examination of America’s role in the world. We’re saddled with a crushing debt that demands steep spending cuts. And Americans are weary — and wary — of international activism after long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in which we spent far too much American blood and treasure for too few results. We’re broke and we’re exhausted.
It should come as no surprise that some have sought to fashion these converging realities into a wedge with which to separate us from our ally Israel. Congressman Ron Paul has led this dubious charge. “Why,” Dr. Paul asks, “do we have this automatic commitment that we’re going to send our kids and send our money endlessly to Israel?” Even more provocatively, he’s claimed “all recent presidents have reiterated our obligation to bleed for Israel.”
Paul’s assertion is a borderline blood libel. We’ve never sent our kids to “bleed” for Israel. American soldiers have not participated in any of Israel’s wars. Nor have the Israelis ever requested our children’s blood. Instead, as Prime Minister Netanyahu recently put it, Israel wants only the ability to “defend itself by itself.”
More importantly, Paul’s distortions obscure the solution to the very problem he purports to address. In an era of belt tightening at home and reduced commitments abroad, our relationship with Israel is not a mistake to be corrected but a model to be emulated.
We can’t afford to keep nation-building new allies. And we can’t afford to take the lead in defending existing allies. As we look to cut spending, we must invest in empowering our allies to fight for us rather than sending our boys to fight for them.
Our alliance with Israel exemplifies this new paradigm. American soldiers do not bleed for Israel. But the converse is true. In a very real sense, Israeli boys do bleed and die in defense of America and the West. Israeli soldiers patrol a line that is not only the border of the Jewish state, but the West’s first line of defense against militant Islam.
When Israel fights Hezbollah, it’s fighting an Iranian-backed terrorist group which murdered over 240 of our Marines in Beirut. When Israel battles Hamas, it’s battling an Iranian-backed terrorist group which has repeatedly spilled American blood. And when Israel sounds the alarm about Iran, it’s focusing our attention on the greatest strategic threat to America and the West.
If only our Iraqi or Afghani trainees, or our supposed allies in Pakistan, performed so effectively on our behalf.
While we don’t send soldiers to Israel, we do send money. The U.S. currently provides $3.1 billion a year in military aid to Israel. But unlike so much of the over $650 billion we spend annually on defense, and the billions more we spend on foreign aid, our aid to Israel is a targeted investment that produces returns well beyond our down payment.
By enabling Israel to maintain its military edge over mutual enemies, we empower Israel to take the lead in pursuing shared strategic interests. Leveraging Israel’s military prowess is far more cost effective than shouldering the strategic burden ourselves as we’ve done in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Korea, Japan, Germany and our over 1,000 foreign military bases.
The current crisis is hardly the first time that critics have distorted the costs and benefits of our alliance with Israel. President Truman’s decision to recognize Israel came at the dawn of the Cold War. Thus those who opposed him grounded their argument in Cold War considerations. Recognizing the Jewish state, they argued, would alienate the Arab and Muslim worlds at the very time we most needed their friendship and oil.
Nothing of the sort happened. We recognized Israel and simultaneously developed close strategic relationships with Arab and Muslim allies. And far from being a Cold War liability, Israel soon proved to be a miraculous strategic asset. In 1967 and again in 1973, our ally Israel smashed the armies of two major Soviet satellites — Egypt and Syria.
After the Cold War, a new enemy emerged: militant Islam. Critics of the U.S.-Israel relationship adapted accordingly. The terrorists hate us, they argued, because we support Israel. But then came 9/11 and the need to more seriously confront the roots of the terrorists’ rage. We quickly learned that al Qaida and Iran have grievances against America far deeper, broader and older than our friendship with Israel.
As we confront militant Islam abroad and a fiscal crisis at home, we can’t afford to abandon our role in the world. But we must seek more equitable alliances. The answer isn’t to reject our relationship with Israel, but to replicate it.
David Brog is the executive director of Christians United for Israel.