(Washington, D.C.) –During NBC’s Commander in Chief Forum last week, Hillary Clinton vowed never to send U.S. ground troops into Iraq or Syria under any circumstances, no matter how seriously American interests or our allies such as Israel or Jordan were threatened.
Clinton also said she strongly supports President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, even though it puts the ayatollahs on a legal pathway to build nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, provides Tehran with at least $100 billion, and removes economic sanctions.
Donald Trump, meanwhile, insists he would be a better far President and continues to say he is staunchly pro-Israel. But during this campaign he has said he would be “neutral” in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He also said he would make all U.S. allies — specifically including Israel — “pay big league” for their defense partnership with America.
So despite eight years of troubled and often tense relations with the White House, perhaps Israeli leaders were right to accept the Obama administration’s offer of a new 10 year military aid agreement now, and not wait to see what a President Clinton or Trump might offer.
Today, after months of protracted negotiations, the deal is now signed, sealed and delivered. At 2pm eastern, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon and Acting Israeli National Security Advisor Jacob Nagel signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in the State Department’s Treaty Room, providing Israel $38 billion in military aid over the next ten years.
Both sides hailed the agreement as the largest aid package in U.S. history. Rice said the deal showed the “unbreakable bond” between the two nations, while acknowledging the two countries don’t always agree. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deal “historic” and thanked President Obama and the administration for their “unprecedented” support.
Not everyone is doing a happy dance, however. As I noted in a column last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who chairs the committee responsible for all foreign aid, has been the most vocal critic of the administration’s approach to the MOU negotiations.
Today, I had lunch with Graham on Capitol Hill. We discussed a range of matters — from the latest in ISIS’s genocidal war in Syria and Iraq, to Iran’s increasing belligerency, to ways the U.S. can strengthen our Sunni Arab allies such as Jordan and Egypt. But I wanted to hear directly his concerns about the MOU, so that’s what we discussed for a good deal of our time together, and the Senator didn’t hold back.
Here are the key points Graham shared with me, and also released as a statement to the press:
“While I think the agreement is important and deserving of respect, I have also made it very clear that Congress is not a party to this agreement nor is this agreement binding on future Congresses. Congress has an independent duty to make a decision about the proper level of support for Israel or our other allies. To suggest this MOU will bind future Presidents and Congresses for the next decade is constitutionally flawed and impractical.
“As Chairman of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Subcommittee, I proposed an increase of $300 million for Foreign Military Financing Program funding for Israel above the MOU due to threats from Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and radical Islamists in the Sinai Desert. This was unanimously supported by both sides of the aisle during Committee markup.
“Additionally, I find it odd the MOU only allocates $500 million for missile defense starting in 2018 while Congress has recommended $600 million for missile defense this year. Who really expects that in 2018 – given provocative Iranian behavior, improved Iranian missile technology, and the chaotic situation in the Middle East — Israel’s defense needs will require less investment?
“We also have a MOU with our ally Jordan. In two of the last three fiscal years, Congress increased funding above the MoU levels by $340 million in fiscal year 2014 and $275 million in fiscal year 2016 – with no objection from President Obama. When the MOU agreement with Jordan was signed, no one anticipated the Syrian civil war, rise of ISIL, or the massive refugee crisis. One can easily see the same funding situation playing out with Israel in the years to come.
“Finally, I’m not pleased with a provision in the MOU which prohibits Israel from using American defense assistance on Israeli defense suppliers. Israel’s homegrown defense technology is some of the best in the world.
“Under our old agreement Israel was allowed to develop cutting-edge military technology and was required to share this technology with the United States. I’m proud to say that many of these advancements helped protect the lives of American service members in uniform.
“I do not believe this new provision will serve the interests of the United States or Israel. I do fear it will be Americans wearing the uniform of our nation who will pay the price for this short-sighted change in policy.”
I share Graham’s concerns. I don’t oppose Israel saying yes to this deal, especially considering the uncertainty in the U.S. political process. But I strongly oppose the administration’s attempt to tie the hands of Congress from providing possible further annual increases, if the situation should warrant.
Congress has a Constitutional role in budgetary matters no President can take away. What’s more, Congress — on a bipartisan basis — as a whole has been far more supportive of Israel and our Sunni Arab allies than this President.
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