OpinionU.S.-Israel Relations

Congress: Israel’s co-equal and systematic ally

The U.S. Congress is the most powerful legislature in the world and has demonstrated its muscle in foreign and defense policy on many occasions.

U.S. Congress. Credit: Pixabay.
U.S. Congress. Credit: Pixabay.
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 420-9 on Sept. 23 to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome air-defense system, the interceptors of which are increasingly manufactured—and eventually exported—by the U.S. defense company Raytheon, which benefits from the battle-tested “Israeli laboratory.”

The overwhelming vote reflects the congressional realization that Iron Dome:

• Enhances Israel’s posture of deterrence, which is critical to the survival of all pro-U.S. Arab regimes and minimization of regional instability.

• Reduces the need for full-scale Israeli wars on Palestinian and Islamic terrorism.

• Provides an alternative to Israeli military ground operations against Palestinian terrorists, which would entail substantial Israeli and Palestinian fatalities.

• Represents joint U.S.-Israel interests, militarily and technologically, in the face of mutual threats (e.g., Islamic terrorism) and mutual challenges (e.g., developing world-class, game-changing technologies).

• Constitutes another example of the systematic support by Congress of enhanced U.S.-Israel cooperation.

The decisive role played by Congress in the replenishment of the Iron Dome underscores the cardinal rule of the U.S. political system: The president proposes, but Congress disposes.

The involvement of senators and House representatives in foreign policy and national security-related issues has surged since the Vietnam War, Watergate and Iran Gate scandals, the dismantling of the USSR (which transformed the world from bipolar to multipolar) and rapidly expanding globalization.

In fact, former Secretary of State Jim Baker complained about the growing congressional assertiveness in the area of foreign policy, saying: “You can’t conduct foreign policy with 535 secretaries of state.” Former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney criticized Congress for micromanaging the defense budget: dictating how much to spend on particular weapons, imposing detailed requirements and programmatic restrictions, venturing into policy-setting and requesting that the Defense Department submit mountains of reports.

Congressional muscle

The U.S. Congress is the most powerful legislature in the world and has demonstrated its co-equal, co-determining muscle in the areas of foreign and defense policy on many occasions, such as:

• Imposing sanctions against foreign countries in defiance of presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Donald Trump (e.g., against Egypt in 2012, Iran in 1996-97 and 2013 and Russia in 2017);

• Non-ratification of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which enabled U.S. withdrawal from the agreement;

• The 2009 non-closure of the Guantanamo Detention Camp was led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), in defiance of Obama.

• The 2009 non-confirmation of Charles Freeman to the post of Director of National Intelligence was led by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.);

• The 1999 non-ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in defiance of Clinton and the international community;

• The unprecedented expansion of U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation despite stiff opposition by Baker and President George H.W. Bush;

• The Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act overrode President Ronald Reagan’s veto;

• The 1984 Boland Amendment aborted Reagan’s financial and military aid to anti-Communist elements in Nicaragua;

• The 1983 blocking of Reagan’s attempted coup against the Surinam pro-Soviet regime;

• The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act mandated congressional authorization of surveillance of persons and organizations which may threaten national security;

• The 1975/76 Tunney (D-Calif.) and Clark Amendments stopped financial and military covert support of the opposition to the pro-Soviet regime in Angola;

• The 1973 Church-Case Amendment ended funding of military involvement in Southeast Asia;

• The 1973 War Powers Act overrode President Richard Nixon’s veto;

• The Jackson-Vanik Amendment preconditioned aid to Moscow upon free immigration.

Congress empowered by the Constitution

As documented in the aforementioned paragraphs, one is advised to note that while Congress is preoccupied with district and state issues, it has the power to both propose and dispose in the areas of foreign and defense policy.

The U.S. Constitution aspires to a limited government and a non-monarchical president and therefore does not limit Congress to overseeing the budget. It provides the Senate and the House of Representatives with the power to act on strategic issues and policy-setting.

The Constitution accords Congress “the power of the purse,” oversight of government operations, ratification of treaties, confirmation of key appointments, declaration of war, funding of military operations and cooperation with foreign entities, creation and elimination of government agencies, imposing sanctions on foreign governments, etc.

In other words, the president is the “commander in chief” within constraints set by Congress.

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

This article was first published by The Ettinger Report.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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