Change You Shouldn’t Believe In
Post-midterms, U.S. Israel policy likely to stay the same
What will be the consequences of the Republicans taking the House of Representatives and (maybe) the Senate next Tuesday when it comes to America’s Mideast policy? Not really all that much! The Jerusalem Post quotes an Israeli official: “It would be a mistake for any policy maker in Israel to think, come November 3, that because it’s a Republican Congress we’re going to have an easier or better time than we’ve had before,” he said. “Foreign policy is dictated by the White House, and Congress and the administration are going to be preoccupied with dealing with the economic situation.”
(You could argue, as Mideast columnist Lee Smith does, that a GOP Congress will give Obama more political cover to do what he wants, but that is not quite the same thing as actually altering policy.)
The one relevant concrete change a party switch will bring is to make Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia)—currently the only Republican Jew in the House or the Senate (though maybe he’ll be joined by this guy?)—the House Majority Whip, or the
second-highest third-highest ranking congressperson.
In turn, Cantor has averred that he may move to separate Israel from the general foreign operations budget, the better to keep aid to the Jewish state safe should the Republican majority obstruct the administration’s foreign funding proposals. Such an act would seem to make Israel’s funding yet more sacrosanct (although it really already is sacrosanct). It could also backfire, at least from a rhetorical standpoint: “Pro-Israel officials, speaking on background,” reports Ron Kampeas,
have said they would work hard to beat back such a proposal because of possible long-term consequences. They see aid for Israel as inextricably bound with the broader interest of countering isolationism. These officials are concerned, too, that elevating Israel above other nations might be counterproductive in an American electorate still made up of diverse ethnic groups. They also believe that such a designation would make Israel more beholden to U.S. policy and erode its independence.
In other words, Cantor needs to learn to love wisely, not too well. (And, maybe, not to so openly salivate at the prospect of log-jamming the legislative process just because a member of the other party was most recently elected to the White House.)
The gist is that the make-up of the legislative branch is unlikely to have any sort of direct effect on administration policy. If Democrats were losing because of policy positions, shared by the Obama administration, that directly concern Jews or Israel, then what you could see happen is the administration take the message that, if it wants to be re-elected in 2012, it needs to tack closer to those positions. However, every bit of reporting has suggested that these midterms are overwhelmingly about the economy—about economic and financial policies, and even more about just general dissatisfaction with the economy’s direction. So it is far-fetched to believe that all the president’s men will wake up on November 3, look at the dismal election results, and conclude that a softer line on Israel, a harder line on Iran, and the replacement of Joe Biden with Eric Cantor is the cure for what is ailing them.