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Policies not Politics: Something to Think About

Shoshana Bryen

Editor's Note (12/1/2022): The dinner – you know which one and it wasn’t Thanksgiving – was at best a terrible mistake and at worst a peek behind a nasty curtain. It is time to pull the plug, but don’t throw the baby out. With a new Congress coming to town and the 2024 campaign already underway, it is important – no, crucial – to separate politics, personalities, and policy. That's what the JPC did for the entire four years of the previous administration. Focus on the policies - good ones and, occasionally, bad ones - not on personalities. In that vein, we direct you below to an article written at the end of 2020, focused on the policies that made the United States and the world better, safer, and stronger. It was not – nor was it meant to be – exhaustive, but today it is a reminder of the importance of policy over politics.

Pull the plug – but don't forget to save the baby.

An abridged version of this appeared in the Jewish News Service: https://www.jns.org/opinion/something-to-think-about/

The Jewish Policy Center doesn’t/can’t/doesn’t want to tell people what to do. We do, however, write about both foreign and domestic policy to encourage people to think about what to do – and our members are quite clear about what they think. We posted an article about the possibility of Chinese mayhem near, but not directly against, Taiwan. We thought it was useful for determining how to think about China, the U.S. defense budget, and American policy in the Pacific. A member very pointedly said we were foolishly missing a “historic moment” by writing about China. OK. So, I went back to our library and with the help of some outside sources put together a list of things to think about at this “historic moment.” It is not – nor is it meant to be – exhaustive.

We currently have the first president since Dwight D. Eisenhower that has not engaged us in a foreign war or new foreign peacekeeping. The Abraham Accords were done without the promise of American money or U.S. troops as “monitors.” (Remember President Clinton offering to put American soldiers in Syria to monitor an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights? How would that have worked when Syria and Iran decimated the country and dropped chemical weapons on Syrian civilians with Russian help?) This has allowed the U.S. to focus on broad defense of the global commons, not being involved in other people’s civil or border wars. (Hence the determination to leave Afghanistan.) Except for the appropriate punishment of Syria for using those chemicals, and the destruction of the territorial base of the ISIS caliphate.

The focus of Middle East peacemaking changed from requiring Israel to pay the Palestinians in the currency of statehood (“risks for peace”) to a request that the Arab States consider the economic and security needs of their own people in deciding whether and how to approach the State of Israel. The result is the Abraham Accords, broadly accepted by countries that have not signed; a new compact with Jordan; and feelers from other countries. The United States abandoned the untenable position of “neutral party” between Israel, which is our democratic ally, and the Palestinian Authority, which is not. The U.S. has moved to a position of honest broker, which is vastly more appropriate. U.S.-Israel security cooperation, grounded in our commonality, continues through the pandemic.

Recognition of the malign terrorist machinations of Iran led to American withdrawal from the JCPOA with its legal pathway for Iran to achieve nuclear weapons capability even if it hadn’t cheated, The dispatch of Qassem Soleimani, restoration of sanctions on Iran with a strong path for humanitarian aid for the people, and the determination to help Iraq assert its independence from Iran are all important. The stresses on Iran are visible internally, and across the region.

NATO has accepted the challenge of defending itself, and the members have increased spending on their own defense as well as redistributing the financial burden. And, speaking of financial burdens, the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Climate Pact, a euphemism for billions of American dollars to be allocated to other countries by the UN without American input – while European countries harangued Washington and failed to meet their assessments under the pact.

The U.S. Defense Budget, which had declined precipitously under the years of crippling “sequestration,” had as its priority restoration of a ready force. The next focus of defense spending will be on R&D for future battles. Even before the Wuhan virus-caused pandemic, China had been called out for acquiring American high-tech – which goes straight into the Chinese military – often under the pretext of “academic research.” Chinese technology has been banned from various Pentagon-related programs as well as 5G programs. And new arrangements allow rare earth element mining to reduce reliance on China for minerals essential to weapons development and production.

Domestically, the administration has forced a consideration of federalism – the relationship between the states and the federal government. We had gone too long without that, and without examining the internal machinations of the arms of the American intelligence establishment.

Throw in pre-COVID economic growth – including the lowest Black and Latino unemployment levels since those statistics have been kept – and what appears to be major economic growth in the second and third quarter of 2020 as people learn to navigate the pandemic; the new US-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement; reductions in illegal immigration and a concerted surge of investigations and arrests against sex and drug trafficking in the United States and beyond – with emphasis on sex-trafficking, which often ensnares minor children.

Tax cuts and the rise in the stock market mean a lot, not only to “millionaires and billionaires,” but to Americans who have invested their college and retirement funds – which is most of us. Much of the stock market surge is attributable to federal government deregulation and the rise in energy independence made possible by “fracking.” More than half of Americans say they are “better off” now than four years ago – COVID-19 notwithstanding.

In a bipartisan spirit, it should be noted that the current administration follows the Obama/Biden years of coddling and paying off Iran, which includes the ouster of the Libyan and Egyptian governments – both of which, although problematic, were allies against Iran. Americans had declining defense budgets that left our soldiers without what they needed; deliberate aggravation of Israel; failure to respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria or Chinese inroads into the American defense industry; the arming and training of Syrian militias who were part of ISIS; the Benghazi murder of an American diplomat and American service personnel; and the slowest revival from a recession in U.S. history.

Think about it.