Perry: Israel Aid Starts at Zero

— by David Streeter

During last night’s Republican foreign policy debate held in South Carolina, a number of the candidates perpetuated myths about President Barack Obama and his support for Israel. In perhaps an even more dangerous precedent, two leading contenders — Texas Governor Rick Perry and field-leading former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney — agreed that foreign aid should “start at zero” for all countries, including Israel. In saying this, these candidates ignore the current 10-year aid agreement between the U.S. and Israel; they disregard the critical relationship with our strategic ally; and they demonstrate their inability to steward the U.S.-Israel relationship. Read on for more on this significant turn of events.

         

More after the jump.
During the debate, a number of the candidates attacked America’s foreign aid to certain countries. Specifically, Perry said that he would start all foreign aid at zero-and Romney agreed.

On the campaign trail, many of the candidates have perpetuated the myth that America’s foreign aid commitments meaningfully contribute to America’s budget crisis. They have done so in order to justify spending cuts, despite the fact that foreign aid comprises less than 1% of the budget.

Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations and Related Programs, has argued that the “security imperatives” of preserving a robust foreign aid program are essential to America’s national security interests. Representative Steve Rothman<?a> (D-NJ) also warned:

Cutting foreign aid will not right our struggling economy, but will ultimately cost us more in U.S. lives and taxpayer dollars. It will surely cause direct and substantial harm to America’s national security.

Further, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition — a foreign policy organization that includes the American Israel Public Affairs Committee-strongly opposed cuts to America’s foreign assistance programs because of their potential to negatively impact American interests abroad.

Remarkably, Perry said that aid to Israel would also “start at zero.” He ultimately said that Israel is a “special ally” and that Israel would receive “substantial” funding. However his proposal to fundamentally alter the approach of American aid to Israel — and Romney’s apparent agreement with this new approach — poses major risks for Israel’s security as well as the U.S.-Israel relationship. (Romney staff later claimed that despite saying “start everything at zero,” Romney was somehow only referring to aid to Pakistan.)

Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro and Representative Howard Berman (D-CA) both recently praised financial assistance to Israel because of the dividends it pays for U.S. interests.

Perry’s and Romney’s new approach to foreign aid to Israel — in addition to Perry’s outrageous remarks on the eve of Obama’s overwhelmingly pro-Israel speech to the UN, and the politicization of the U.S.-Israel relationship repeatedly displayed by Romney and the other GOP candidates — clearly demonstrates that they are not ready to steward the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Conversely, President Obama has in FY2012 made the largest ever security funding request for Israel in U.S. history, totaling $3 billion — in keeping with the 2007 memorandum of understanding. Above and beyond this unprecedented foreign aid request, Obama has made additional funding requests exceeding the memorandum of understanding, to save Israeli lives — including $205 million for the Iron Dome system last year.

 

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