Rand Paul is changing the debate over foreign aid

Rand Paul has introduced a bill called the Stand with Israel Act of 2014. Its stated purpose is to end aid to the Palestinian government until its leaders agree to a ceasefire and recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

The proposal has encountered some surprising opposition. AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, “declined to support the bill,” reports Politico. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin denounced it as a “phony pro-Israel bill.”

Jonathan Chait sneered in New York magazine, “Rand Paul attacks Israel lobby from the right.” He wrote, “Republicans love America’s alliance with Israel, and Paul is a committed isolationist.”

Well, no need even to quibble about “committed isolationist” versus realist or non-interventionist. If the word “isolationist” means something besides “person who does not want to bomb country Lindsey Graham wishes to bomb,” it means believing the United States has no vital national interests outside the Western hemisphere.

The junior senator from Kentucky has made clear the United States does have vital interests outside the hemisphere and therefore doesn’t fit the definition even if he isn’t hungry for a sequel to the Iraq war. (Sequels are frequently worse than the original.)

When Paul introduced his first federal budget proposal, containing some $500 billion in spending cuts, he zeroed out all foreign aid. No aid to Israel, no aid to the Palestinians.

Based on criticism he received from fellow Republicans, Paul adjusted his approach. He would start his efforts to cut foreign aid with governments that are hostile to the United States, as opposed to government’s that are allies. Frequently, such countries are also hostile to Israel.

That meant trying to suspend foreign aid to Egypt, Libya and Pakistan. It also led Paul to try to block the sale of fighter jets, tanks and weapons to Egypt, then run by the Muslim Brotherhood. AIPAC opposed that amendment too.

Rubin called AIPAC’s position on that Paul amendment “bad judgment” and the Senate’s vote to continue the sale a “mistake.” Calling Paul’s rationale “sound,” she wrote, “We need less blind faith in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood regime and more common-sense concern about giving the wrong people the wrong help.”

It seems that supporters of Israel can disagree without abandoning their support for Israel, a point Paul has frequently tried to make when discussing the Holy Land.

In both cases, pro-Israel voices who disagreed with Paul on blocking aid feared a loss of leverage. AIPAC said it was important to maintain influence over the Egyptian government while others would like to maintain the Palestinian Authority’s cooperation with Israel against terrorism.

Deeply flawed though the Palestinian Authority is, its total collapse would be a genuine Israeli security problem.

Yet there are arguments to be made that limitless aid can also diminish U.S. and Israeli leverage. Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin, disagreeing in part with everyone involved in the debate over the Stand with Israel Act, opined Paul “actually isn’t completely wrong here.”

“It’s time to start holding the PA accountable for its behavior,” Tobin continued. “What’s too bad is that Paul, of all people, seems to be the only one ready to do so.”

Perhaps it’s also time to start asking whether U.S. foreign aid is promoting outcomes favorable to American interests or buying us more problems. When we are seen as funding both sides of the same conflict, we often gain the enmity of everyone involved.

This was particularly noticeable in Egypt, where supporters of the military and the Muslim Brotherhood both accused the United States of creating their political problems. Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military had all received American aid; their opponents could all say U.S. leaders propped them up.

Is foreign aid spending doing more to buy solutions or new problems? That’s a discussion well worth having.

Too bad that Paul seems to be the only one ready to do so.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *