I recently reviewed Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. To put it simply, it’s disheartening. Mr. Kerry implied that the Israelis — not the Palestinians shooting rockets at them — are somehow responsible for the breakdown in the American-led Middle East “peace talks.” Kerry’s latest example of misplaced moral equivalence and the Obama administration’s general aloofness toward America’s long-time friends are making the world a more dangerous place.
Earlier this year, I visited Israel. I travelled throughout the country, met with Israeli leaders, met local residents who live under constant rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, and toured a field hospital on the Syrian border. The scene at that hospital was particularly moving, since Israel allows Syrians to cross the security border fence so Jewish doctors can treat those wounded and injured in Syria’s ongoing civil war. I visited what our administration, and many in the news media, refer to as “Jewish settlements.” These so-called settlements are actually just Jewish neighborhoods — full of homes, shopping centers, synagogues, and schools, not the plywood shanties and tents the term “settlements” implies.
I also visited the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, located in Jerusalem. This was a location frequented by Jesus and his disciples. Since there are sites on the Temple Mount also considered sacred in Islam, Israel granted Islamic religious authorities jurisdiction over the area. I was shocked to see that we had an Islamic official shadowing our tour group to ensure that none of the Christians or Jews among us stopped to pray or take out a Bible. If we had dared to do so, we would have been subject to arrest.
In addition, I learned that Israeli citizens pick up most of the tab for the electricity and water used by Palestinians in Gaza. Many Palestinians living in Gaza commute to Israel for work during the day, and have a standard of living they would likely not experience elsewhere in the Middle East. Yet exaggerated descriptions of their living conditions are often used as a call to arms by Middle East dictators and terrorist groups.
I thought of my visit last month, when the Palestinian terrorist group Islamic Jihad fired more than 40 rockets into Israel from Gaza. Several exploded in urban areas. Sadly, rocket attacks are a way of life in Israel and many of the weapons that end up in the hands of Palestinian militants were likely sent by the anti-American regime in Iran. Ironically, in order to restart the peace talks, Israel recently agreed to release more than 100 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom are terrorists convicted of brutally killing Israeli civilians and soldiers. When prisoners such as these are released, they receive a heroes’ welcome in Palestine. Yet, Secretary Kerry cites Israel as the reason peace talks have stalled.
In order to have a meaningful peace agreement, there must be two willing sides, acting in good faith. The Palestinian Authority, buoyed by President Obama’s assertion that disputed borders should be based on lines drawn in 1967 and Mr. Kerry’s decision to blame Israel, realizes that this White House is less supportive of Israel than past presidents, and is therefore not forced to act in good faith.
Sadly, this fuzzy foreign policy doesn’t stop with Israel or the Middle East.
The president’s defense cuts have resulted in the cancellation of nearly 50 percent of military-to-military training exercises with our allies in Europe. These are crucial allies who are nervously looking over their shoulders at Vladimir Putin’s expansion. Last fall, NATO held one of its largest training exercises since the end of the Cold War, with live fire and over 6,000 personnel. America’s contribution to this vital undertaking was a mere 200 troops. Additionally, President Obama has cut missile defense funding and has pulled every single American combat tank out of Europe, while simultaneously striking a deal with Iran to curb “some” of its nuclear activity. Iran’s president proclaims that this deal recognizes Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium.
As America speaks more softly, and differently, we must recognize that our adversaries, allies, and rivals are taking note. After being told by President Obama that there would be consequences for invading Crimea, Vladimir Putin defied the warning.
As a Member of Congress, nearly everything I do is focused on domestic issues such as job creation and looking out for hard working American families. But I am still responsible for issues of foreign policy. And our efforts internationally must be driven by principles and purpose.
When America chooses to speak, we must say what we mean and mean what we say. Our words carry weight unlike those of any other country. Careful stewardship of when to speak and what to say is critical. The United States should be seeking the trust of our friends, and the respect of our adversaries. And messages like the ones currently being sent by President Obama and Secretary Kerry accomplish neither.
Bill Johnson represents Ohio’s Sixth Congressional District and served 26 years in the United States Air Force.