Commentary Magazine


Cut to Missile Defense for Israel Gives the Lie to Obama’s “Best Friend” Narrative

Democrats are crying foul about Republican efforts to publicize the fact that President Obama’s budget request to Congress contained a cut in funding for missile defense projects in Israel. The amount of aid allocated for this sector went down from $106 million in 2012 to $99 million next year. The Republican Jewish Coalition is making a meal out of this point, but the president’s supporters are pointing out that the overall amount of funding for Israel went up. Given the scale of the budget, the difference doesn’t amount to much money and Congress will, no doubt, vastly increase this number as it did for 2012 when it more than doubled the amount Obama requested.

But the cut is worth talking about specifically because it undermines the line of baloney Obama and the Democrats have been selling to American Jewish audiences in recent months about him being the most pro-Israel president in history when it comes to supporting defense of the Jewish state. Moreover, the decision to pare back missile defense is particularly embarrassing because American support for Israel’s “Iron Dome” system is something Obama has taken credit for at every possible opportunity, even though the project was initiated and funded by George W. Bush.

The president has taken to patting himself on the back on every occasion about what he claims is the unprecedented scale of aid and security cooperation with Israel. But the problem with this boast is it puts forward the notion that what has happened in the last three years has been the result of his initiative and planning rather than merely a continuation of a de facto defense alliance that began during the Reagan administration and has been maintained and strengthened by each subsequent administration.

Obama deserves full credit for carrying on this tradition and for placing no obstacles in the way of close cooperation between Israel’s Defense Ministry and the Pentagon despite the political fights he picked with Israel’s government during this time. But the idea that what he did in this sphere was unprecedented is more the product of his need to re-position himself as a friend of Israel, after years of antagonism and trying to create diplomatic distance between the two countries, than anything else. Given the fact that a decision not to continue security cooperation would have required him to expend an enormous amount of scarce political capital and would have entailed a major fight with Congress, his decision must be assessed as more a matter of expediency than principle.

As for the specific cut in missile defense aid,  that was a curious decision considering how much effort Democrats have put into trying to convince American Jews Obama was the sole author of Iron Dome, even though the most one could say of his role there is that he did not exert himself to prevent the completion of a project initiated by his predecessor. Given the constant threat of missile attacks from Gaza and Lebanon, not to mention worries about Iran, such efforts are of particular importance to Israel.

Though the amount of the cut is not large and will be restored by Congress, the Republicans are right to speak up about this issue. Obama’s attempt to claim the mantle of Israel’s best friend ever in the White House is mere campaign rhetoric that has only been swallowed up by the most credulous and partisan Jewish Democrats. The budget request is one more piece of tangible proof that the president’s boast is an election year joke.