One of the standard tropes of American politics since World War II is the complaint that domestic concerns are being slighted while Washington funds either foreign aid or military commitments abroad. Since the United States became a global superpower, it’s a given that there will always be some people who will argue that any number of problems would be solved if only the money spent on foreign entanglements and adventures were sent back home.
Such reasoning is usually faulty. Even in periods of economic retrenchment, America is a wealthy enough country to protect its interests and its allies outside of its borders while dealing with its domestic obligations. If some problems aren’t being addressed at home, that is a failure of leadership in Washington, but it doesn’t mean that crises abroad should be neglected. Nor is it a given that even a shift to complete isolationism would turn the United States into a paradise rather than the complicated, messy yet glorious nation that exists.
But even if we dismiss the usual carping, that doesn’t validate every proposal for foreign spending. Nor does it mean that worries about an administration that has turned a blind eye to one of the greatest domestic crises in living memory while obsessing about a foreign war should be dismissed as isolationist or even xenophobic.
A standoff on foreign aid
Yet that is exactly what is going on in Washington as Congress returns from its holiday break faced with the same impasse over aid to Ukraine and Israel, as well as the need to address the crisis at America’s southern border. This is largely being reported as a partisan squabble between Democrats and Republicans with each of them blaming the other for the failure to pass an emergency aid bill to help Israel during its post-Oct. 7 war against Hamas or to vote more aid for Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. But there’s more at work here than politics as usual in a dysfunctional Congress.
What we have now is a standoff in which three causes are being pitted against each other. On one (Israel), there is a broad consensus in Congress. On another (Ukraine), there is no consensus between the two parties. And the third (the border crisis), there isn’t even a consensus between Democrats and Republicans about whether it is a genuine crisis. That’s a formula for the kind of standoff that often leads to nothing getting passed or even threats of government shutdowns.
The current alignment in Congress is such that there are more than enough votes in both the GOP-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate to pass a “clean” aid bill to Israel. Such a measure would ensure that the Jewish state gets all the arms it needs to fight Hamas in Gaza, and deter a war with Hezbollah and its Iranian masters on Israel’s northern front.
But that’s not what the White House proposed in November. Instead, it sent Capitol Hill a proposal for a $106 billion foreign-aid package of which only $14.3 billion was devoted to helping Israel at a moment when it is fighting a war for its existence. It linked aid to Jerusalem to the cause that has been its priority for the last two years: supporting Ukraine against Russia. Ukraine, which received more than $150 billion in U.S. aid since it was invaded by Russia, would have gotten $61.4 in the administration’s package. Another $9 billion would have gone for what it called “humanitarian aid” for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. However, it is far from clear whether that will fall into the hands of Hamas or its allies or, as is the case with most of the assistance that goes there, make the problem worse rather than better. In addition to that, smaller amounts would have gone to countering China—currently, America’s most dangerous foreign foe. There was also supposed to be $14 billion for increased enforcement of immigration laws.
This was never going to pass both houses of Congress.
While a majority of Senate Republicans are as enthusiastic about spending on the war in Ukraine as their Democratic colleagues, House Republicans were having none of it. They think it isn’t reasonable for the United States to be spending so much on a war in Ukraine that is now hopelessly deadlocked. Russia is the aggressor in that conflict, and its President Vladimir Putin is a bloody tyrant. But Ukraine successfully defended its independence against the initial push to overrun it in 2022 when Moscow’s incompetent military proved that it was incapable of conquering Kyiv. The Ukrainians are now engaged in an equally futile quest—funded by Washington and its European allies—to get back the land Russia seized in 2014 in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea at a time when no one in the United States was interested in pursuing a proxy war against Moscow.
Contradictory arguments on Ukraine
Supporters of giving Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a blank check to go on fighting “as long as it takes” have two contradictory arguments that treat Moscow as weak enough to be defeated by its smaller neighbor, yet powerful enough to defeat the far larger and technologically superior NATO forces on its Western border. On the one hand, they think Ukraine can defeat Russia given enough American support. On the other, they claim that if Ukraine isn’t allowed to continue fighting to get back Crimea, then Russia—whose army has proved it couldn’t beat Kyiv’s forces—could conquer all of Europe.
Both premises are absurd. With all the money in the world, Ukraine can’t conquer Russia, and even if it did, the consequences of such an outcome are unknowable and as likely to be bad as good for the West. And contemporary Russia, as opposed to the Soviet Union of 40 years ago, can’t conquer Europe. Yet rather than push for peace to put an end to a futile, unwinnable war for both sides, many Americans seem to think unlimited spending on a forever conflict is a good idea and smear anyone who points out these facts as a Putin puppet.
Wherever you come down on the virtues of fighting Putin forever, tying that cause to the need to help Israel defeat Hamas is a cynical political tactic.
And as far as Democrats were concerned, the same could be said about Republican efforts to tie foreign-aid spending to a commitment to taking action to halt the massive flood of illegal immigrants pouring over America’s southern border since President Joe Biden took office. The crisis there is real and growing with more than 2 million illegal immigrants entering the United States last year alone and every sign that even more are now heading towards the border.
Republicans want to massively increase spending on border security and to complete the “wall” that former President Donald Trump promised but failed to build. More than that, they want to reform a broken system that is allowing economic migrants who flout the law about legal entry to come in via bogus asylum requests. The current situation, which has led to a population of illegal immigrants that may now number as high as 30 million, makes a mockery of the rule of law.
The crisis at the border
For years, Democrats have spoken of this issue as if the GOP were repeating the mistakes of the past in which the United States shut the door in the face of Jews fleeing Nazi Europe to escape certain death during the Holocaust. That’s an inappropriate analogy.
It is easy to sympathize with those who wish to leave impoverished and unstable Central American countries for the relative safety and prosperity of North America. But if anyone who simply wants a better life has a “right” to legally enter the United States, then what Democrats are arguing is that all of Central America and much of the rest of the world can simply empty out and arrive on U.S. shores.
That makes no sense. By essentially stripping the southern border of security with “catch and release” and liberal asylum policies put in place by Biden, who promised to be more “compassionate” than Trump, the administration has, in effect, created a self-made humanitarian disaster in the border states. That has caused a crisis there as these communities are forced to pay for services for millions of people with the left promising the illegals health insurance, driver’s licenses, and even in some cases, the right to vote.
This is not just bad policy. It ignores the plight of working-class Americans who are taxed to pay for these services while being forced to compete with cheap illegal immigrant labor in a shrinking job market at a time of rising inflation fueled by Democratic spending. It also ignores the fact that illegal immigration is largely controlled by the Mexican drug cartels that are using this surge to help flood the country with fentanyl, part of the epidemic of opioid addiction. There is nothing “progressive” about any of that.
With these illegal migrants making their way—either on their own or being bused there by border-state Republicans who think blue states and cities that support illegal immigration should start feeling their pain—to large urban areas in the north, places like New York City, Washington and Chicago are also being overwhelmed by the costs of dealing with the consequences of Biden’s open border policies. That means, as The New York Times reported, for the first time even Democrats are starting to see merit in the Republicans’ demands that the federal government start exercising its responsibility to defend the country’s borders and end this crisis.
At this point, supporters of foreign aid need to stop referring to those who want to prioritize the border as xenophobes and isolationists. There are some people on the right who do fit into that category—like former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who is not so much a supporter of Trump’s “America First” policy as one of “America only,” and who remains clearly hostile to Israel. But that’s not true of the overwhelming majority of Republicans who are equally committed to helping Israel’s fight against Islamist terrorists, a war that is truly linked to the security of the West.
America must also be secure
Those who are rightly focused on doing what they can to keep what’s left of the old bipartisan pro-Israel consensus alive need to understand that if America is going to be a trustworthy ally to the Jewish state, it must first be secure at home. As long as the federal government is ignoring its responsibility to defend the border against the surge of illegal immigration, which may also bring with it a heightened threat of terrorism, that won’t be true.
Up until now, the discussion about foreign aid has been a dialogue of the deaf. That can’t continue because the border crisis is now assuming proportions that not even Biden can continue to ignore—and because Israel really does need and deserve more American aid.
That should cause the pro-Israel community to speak sense to an administration that is already beset by a revolt on the part of its left-wing base which wants Biden to abandon the Jewish state and allow Hamas to survive in order to commit more Oct. 7 atrocities, as it has promised to do. But if Israel aid is to be passed this year, Washington must also prioritize the illegal immigration crisis. It simply isn’t reasonable to argue that America should spend billions elsewhere when almost nothing is being done to defend its own border.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him: @jonathans_tobin.