With the world in turmoil, foreign policy is shaping up to be one of the most important issues facing potential 2016 presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton, who enthusiastically bullied Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Secretary of State, is now trying to sound more hawkish than President Barack Obama on the Israel-Hamas conflict. The real political winner in the conflict, however, has been Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
That is because Israel is acting with greater independence than it has in decades, ignoring Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry as they push for a ceasefire that most Israelis see as premature.
In previous rounds in Gaza, the Israeli government had to weigh carefully the risk that it might alienate the White House if it pressed too hard for victory. By now, however, there is no risk: the Obama administration is effectively on the other side.
And though Obama’s defenders have noted his support for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system, he undid that argument on Tuesday with an FAA ban on U.S. flights into and out of Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport after a Hamas rocket landed a mile away.
In 2013, ironically, Obama posed in front of a U.S.-funded Iron Dome battery at Ben Gurion. Either that aid was useless, or–more likely–it is being now abused as leverage against Israel.
Increasingly, Israelis have had enough, and more are arguing that they should stop relying on American aid. In 2013, as Breitbart News noted, some Israelis were prepared to make that argument privately. Now, as Eli Lake of the Daily Beast reports, many are making it publicly, including some of Israel’s nationalist politicians. They want Israel to stand on its own–and to be free to act in its own interests in moments of crisis, such as today.
That development is a huge boost to Sen. Paul, who has long argued for cutting U.S. aid to Israel–as well as to all other nations. In a 2013 visit to Israel, Paul moderated that view somewhat, recognizing Israel’s strategic importance and allowing that Israel should be the last nation to be cut from the U.S. foreign aid budget. Yet he has still argued that both the U.S. and Israel would be better off if Israel were less dependent on American aid.
That view is abhorrent to many pro-Israel activists in Washington. Leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), for example, reject Sen. Paul’s position outright. They argue that American military aid to Israel is a boon to both countries, boosting security and advancing technology. For AIPAC, politicians such as Chuck Hagel may even be excused their otherwise anti-Israel views as long as they vote for the annual aid bill.
Yet an increasing number of conservatives, both in Israel and the U.S., are arguing that as much as military aid helps in the short term, funding Iron Dome missile batteries and the like, it comes as a strategic cost to Israel–as well as a fiscal cost to American taxpayers.
Rand Paul’s challenge has been to prove that he wants to cut aid to Israel for Israel’s own sake–and not to hurt Israel, as some of his (and his father’s) supporters wish to do.
Indeed, the elder Paul’s animus towards Israel–really, a subset of his particular brand of anti-Americanism–still hangs over his son. The Washington Free Beacon recently reported that a list of suggested readings that included anti-Israel texts was recently scrubbed from the Senator’s website.
Rand Paul still has to convince voters that he cares about Israel and will defend it. But on the policy merits, this war is proving his case.