Those whose hatred of political opponents exceeds their hatred for the country’s enemies should be kept far from the Presidency. A party which treats foreign policy only as a means to claw back power at any cost cannot be trusted with America’s own national security interests; how reliable can it be when it comes to Israel’s?
This column originally published in the Times of Israel.
This is getting dangerous.
Embassy attacks in Baghdad. Targeted killings of top Iranian militia generals. Threats of war, and counter-threats. Widespread riots destabilizing both Iraq and Iran. Implications of President Trump’s “Deal of the Century” peace plan, and the backlash against it.
Oh, the events themselves aren’t unusually dangerous; but the reactions by the Democrats’ top presidential candidates and party leadership are. The Democrats’ evident political priorities and leftward shift should scare American voters concerned with Mideast policy, particularly regarding the welfare of Israel and its U.S. relationship. So far, those voters have yet to show sufficient levels of alarm.
For context, rewind a few months to President Trump’s decision to reposition US troops away from one volatile Turkey-Syria border area, widely (and not unfairly) criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike as an abandonment of America’s Syrian-Kurdish allies. Democrats and Democrat-leaning pundits in the U.S. and Israel, however, took their criticism curiously further, accusing President Trump of endangering Israel with his controversial move. Presidential candidate Senator Amy Klobuchar, for example, charged in response: “Think about our other allies, Israel, what do they think now — ‘Donald Trump is not true to our allies’.” Popular Israeli Democrat-leaning pundits pre-accused Trump of inevitable betrayal, one drawing this “unequivocal” conclusion: “Trump has become unreliable for Israel. He can no longer be trusted.” This was “not just a knife in the Kurds’ backs but also a knife in [Israelis’] backs.”
This, of course, is preposterous. Not to downplay the potential humanitarian repercussions of redeployment, but Israel is no rag-tag Kurdish militia, sharing little with America beyond some limited military goals. Israel is a major U.S ally, incalculably valuable to America in terms of sharing intelligence, weapons development, technology and military tactics. Both countries share strategic interests and commitments to political, national and human rights: it is no coincidence that enemies of one are invariably enemies of both. Thus, warnings of a wholesale Trump administration abandonment of Israel appear cynical or hysterical.
Yet, the warnings are not irrelevant. It is healthy for voters sensitive to Israel’s security and American alliance to be ever-vigilant about candidates who could lead an American turnabout and abandonment of Israel: those who promise to cut military aid, or who threaten and pressure Israel for adopting policies not to their liking; or who would restore and expand the Obama-administration policy of ensuring “daylight” between these currently-closest of allies. But does anyone honestly see such threats emanating from the Trump administration?
Whatever else one thinks about the man, it’s difficult to “out-Israel” the daring and remarkable record of President Trump, in just three years and often against enormous pressure: recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and relocating America’s embassy there; recognition of Israeli residency and sovereignty rights in the Golan Heights, Jordan Valley, and West Bank; shielding Israel from UN assaults; prodding Arab states to abandon Islamist and anti-Israel activity; keeping Iran off-balance; and addressing the Israeli-Palestinian dispute by taking seriously Israel’s security needs and legal/historical rights. In 2020, the President’s “pro -Israel” record is hard to top.
And what of the 2020 Democrats competing to replace the Trump administration? There is plenty which reveals their orientation, too. And it does not bode well for Israel’s security. Or America’s.
1. The drone strike killing General Soleimani just after his Iranian-backed militias attacked the US Embassy in Baghdad? Very bad! At least, according to Corbyn-esque Democratic frontrunners Bernie Sanders (we can’t “assassinate” even “very bad leaders” without causing “international anarchy”), Joe Biden (would not have ordered the strike without evidence of “an imminent threat” from him) and Pete Buttigieg (“no evidence that made our country safer”). Where were these Democrats’ protests and hand-wringing on identical grounds when the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden?
Soleimani was responsible for hundreds of U.S. military deaths, thousands of wounded, and tens of thousands of rockets fired at/aimed at Israel—and was actively plotting ever more of each. If the Democrats cannot even grudgingly support his elimination, don’t expect them to be there for Israel when it carries out a similar strike against enemy terror leadership. Perhaps the Israel-should-fear-abandonment shoe actually fits on America’s Democratic foot.
2. The “Deal of the Century” Mideast peace plan? Terrible! OK, so it has broad support from both sides of Israel’s political spectrum, including PM Netanyahu and his Center-Left election opponent Benny Gantz. And it has even received muted praise and qualified endorsement from the region’s Arab states, including the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. (For comparison, note that the Arab League expelled Egypt for signing the Camp David Peace Accords with Israel.) But Democrats can’t muster even Arab-esque praise for any part of the Trump proposal, belittling its “snake oil diplomacy.” 107 Congressional Democrats sent a letter of “strong disapproval” to the President, adding cheap broadsides against Trump and Netanyahu for good measure.
The plan deserves only condemnation, according to Presidential candidates Biden (“a political stunt” that would “set back peace even more”), Sanders (“unacceptable” as it doesn’t “end Israeli occupation”) and Warren (“I will…reverse” any policy that supports it, and will “make clear that Israeli settlements violate international law;” the U.S. must “find ways to apply pressure and create consequences for problematic behavior”). All pledged allegiance instead to the mirage of the “two-state solution,” that reliable diplomatic unicorn—as magical as it is mythological. Even as a fantasy alternative, invoking it without explanation of how to bring it about is a cop-out.
Senator Klobuchar is often considered the most moderate of the candidates. (Granted, that is praise akin to being the highest mountain in Florida.) Yet, even she immoderately joined Sanders, Warren and nine other Senate Democrats in an insulting public letter to President Trump excoriating the plan.
3. Just what are voters to make of Sanders repeatedly calling Netanyahu and Israel’s government “racist” (as have other Democratic candidates); saying he would “leverage” military assistance “to demand” Israeli policy changes–and would divert some of that aid to Hamas-run Gaza; and who considers moving the embassy back to Tel Aviv to be “on the table”?
Or Buttigieg, pledging that he would respond to the “provocation” of extending Israeli law to Israeli settlements with cuts in American military aid; that aid to Israel could be “leverage to ‘guide’ Israel in the right direction;” stating without qualification, “The occupation has to end;” and declaring Israel’s human rights record “problematic;” Or Andrew Yang supporting outright a Palestinian “right of return”—a statement that didn’t even raise eyebrows among Democrats?
Or Warren, threatening that if Israel won’t stop building in settlements, “then everything is on the table,” repeating, “Everything is on the table;” or calling Netanyahu “blatantly corrupt”, adding that “he’ll stop at nothing to enrich himself and stay in power”?
Or Biden, master of buttering-up the AIPAC crowd with Zionist anecdotes, then turning around and telling J Street, “We have an overwhelming obligation, notwithstanding our sometimes overwhelming frustration with the Israeli government…to push them as hard as we can toward what they know in their gut is the only solution: a two-state solution;” who says of Netanyahu: “I know him well….He wants to stay in power” and thus has “gone to the extreme right…”; and who reportedly was the Obama “point-man” in passing the perfidious UN Resolution 2334 (which declared “flagrantly” illegal Israeli activity in all “occupied territory,” including the Western Wall and Jerusalem), where his role included—believe it or not—a phone call to coax the president of Ukraine(!) to change its vote; and who suggested that Netanyahu’s government issuing building permits for a Jerusalem development located in pre-1967 no-man’s land “undermines the security of [U.S.] troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”?
Sanders and Warren also were among just eight Senators who boycotted Netanyahu’s 2015 speech to Congress where he presciently warned against a bad Iran nuclear deal. (As did Biden, then Vice-President.)
4. The contempt they’ve shown PM Netanyahu is astounding—and astoundingly short-sighted. Dislike him all you want, but at least respect that repeatedly, for 11 consecutive years, he’s democratically won the confidence of Israel’s voters to handle always-precarious security matters, to shepherd Israel’s resilient economy, growing military prowess and budding diplomatic leverage, and to handle the relationship with American administrations both hostile and helpful. Plus, he may yet be the Israeli statesman they have to deal with.
These Democrats don’t dare speak so harshly of enemy regimes, let alone other strategic allies. Where are their similar criticisms of Venezuela’s Maduro, Iran’s Khameni, China’s Xi, Turkey’s Erdogan—or even Mahmoud Abbas, who last faced voters during George W. Bush’s first term, and insists on funneling bonus money to terrorists responsible for killing American citizens?
To dismiss only Netanyahu as “racist” or “extreme,” especially by those who never previously showed mastery of Israeli politics or policy, reflects scorn uniquely reserved for Israel’s Prime Minister and disrespect for Israel’s electorate. And when an American candidate demonstrates such animosity only toward the leader of the world’s one Jewish state…well, one starts to consider…um, additional motivations.
At least two major factors are likely behind the Democrats’ icy tone towards Israel. First is the party’s “Corbyn-ization”—the Democrats’ sharp “progressive” move to the political left. This is political territory occupied by Israel’s harshest critics and opponents of its very existence—who now drive a substantial, energized part of the Democrats’ base. Even the less Corbyn-ized candidates won’t risk losing their votes.
Second, the party’s tribal, anti-Trump gag-reflex demands vocal opposition to whatever Trump supports—even if that’s what the Democrats also claimed to support until 10 minutes ago (e.g., the embassy move to Jerusalem). Trump could issue a Presidential Mothers’ Day Proclamation, and it would spur Democratic backlash. Likewise, any “pro-Israel” action he takes requires condemnation. And any Israeli leader who sees eye-to-eye with him must be denounced.
The Democrats’ obsessive denial that the President has done anything right was demonstrated yet again when not a single Democrat would support a nonpartisan resolution honoring the military personnel involved in the Soleimani airstrike—similar to the unanimously-passed resolution commending the military operation killing Osama bin Laden. The Democrats are apparently so Trump-poisoned that they would rather have the single most dangerous man to the U.S. (and Israel) still engineering attacks against America than to have him eliminated—at the minimal cost of smiling through gritted teeth, saying “Nice job, Mr. President” or “Even a broken clock is right twice a day,” passing the resolution and moving on.
Neither they nor their subservient media acknowledge anything that makes this President look good; or that bolsters his ally Netanyahu; or makes the Obama/Biden/Clinton/Kerry policy of Pressure Israel/Appease Iran look as feckless and wrongheaded as it obviously was.
Voters witnessed Democrats celebrating their nakedly partisan impeachment of President Trump. Yet, as America decapitates and disrupts the terror commands of ISIS, Iran and its militia network, the Democrats don’t celebrate; instead, they resentfully call for investigations into Trump’s process in ordering these successful missions. They regularly speak more respectfully of these deposed terror leaders than of the American President.
For some, this reaction is sincere, which is terrifying enough. For others, one senses an outrageously unfettered political insincerity: had it been President Obama who ordered the identical operation against Soleimani, or developed Trump’s peace plan, or moved the embassy to Jerusalem (it’s just a hypothetical), those Democrats’ reactions would turn 180 degrees in favor.
It’s been said that a liberal is someone who won’t take his own side in an argument. What do we call those who won’t take their own nation’s side in a war? Or who can’t commend American military achievement if that also confers the slightest political advantage upon their political opponent?
In 2007, when John McCain was challenged for supporting the unpopular—but ultimately successful–U.S. military “surge” in Iraq at substantial risk to his Presidential ambitions, he replied, “I’d rather lose an election than lose a war.” Can no Democrat take a similarly principled stand regarding U.S. confrontation with Iran’s jihadist regime?
The hostility towards Israel expressed by Democratic leaders and candidates reflects true ideological belief for some; for others, it mostly reflects a willingness to throw Israel overboard if that is the cost of defeating this Israel-allied President. Or, in the likely worst case, there is substantial overlap between those camps.
We witnessed the Obama administration’s gamesmanship with Israel’s security with, for example, UN 2334, holding up arms shipments during the last Gaza war, and the JCPOA. That administration also squandered hard-won victories in Iraq, pulling troops out prematurely without military justification, but for political purposes. That abandonment left Iraqi civilians, including the Yazidis and Iraqi Kurds, to the tender mercies of the likes of al-Baghdadi and Soleimani, and led to the creation of ISIS, the Syrian bloodbath, lethal Iranian mischief in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, and the re-entry of Russia into the region.
But President Trump repositions a few hundred troops out of Northern Syria (even if a bad decision), and NOW Democrats are worried about US abandonment of allies? Please.
Democrats whose lust for power exceeds their love of country should be kept far from the Presidency; so should those whose hatred of political opponents exceeds their hatred for the country’s enemies. Sadly, such people currently form the Democratic core. They will inevitably dominate any Democratic administration and shape its policy, even if one of their “moderates” wins the Presidency.
Should allies such as Israel fear American abandonment? That may depend on who is in the White House. But considering the Democrats’ current orientation, keep in mind: a party whose highest–if not only–priority is its short-term clawback of political power at any cost cannot be trusted with America’s own national security interests; how reliable can it be when it comes to Israel’s?
Abe Katsman is an American attorney and political commentator living in Israel. He serves as Counsel to Republicans Overseas Israel.
This column originally published in the Times of Israel.