On missile defense controversy, a look at the historical record


According to the Washington Free Beacon, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Howard McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of its Armed Services Committee, are "deeply concerned" that Obama’s budget asked for a cut in funding for joint U.S.-Israel anti-missile defense development, from $106 million to $100 million.

Republicans are already making hay of this — see the comment from Matt Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition director, in the earlier Free Beacon story that broke the news of the proposed cut.

Such proposed cuts to joint spending on missile defense (and Congress’ tendency to restore them, and then some) are routine, however.


Here’s an example from 2007: Funding for 2006 was $138 million; George W. Bush asked for it to be cut to $80 million; Congress approved $155 million.

The reasoning behind the periodic proposals by Pentagon bureaucrats to make such cuts are opaque, but the nature of the funding should be considered as a factor. 

Unlike the $3 billion Israel gets in annual defense assistance, this is not a "give."

It is a cooperative venture: Both nations benefit from the development of the anti-missile systems, in terms both of defensive use and later sales.

So a Pentagon numbers cruncher is considering not only "does this help our ally, Israel," she’s thinking: "Is this program working? Is it cost-efficient? Is the money better spent on another system that would defend U.S. interests?"

The number cruncher might also be asking his or her Israeli counterpart what the Israeli calculus is regarding the program, and take that into account.

This missile kerfuffle is not unlike the partisan jabs at the Obama administration over its Iran policy.

There have always been differences between the legislative and executive branches over when and how to raise the stakes with hostile states, no matter which party occupies which House. It’s as old as the Republic.

In election years, these take on partisan hues, although they are anything but: Bush pushed back against congressional demands for increased sanctions with greater vigor than Obama, and not because he was Persia-phile.

Like his predecessors and successor, he sought to limit congressional meddling in foreign policy, and like them, he had to consider international realities (in Bush’s case, managing Iraq, and in both Bush’s and Obama’s case, bringing other nations into the Iran mix) that did not redound as heavily in Congress.

The trick for election watchers is to sweep aside the partisan sniping and ask: Which policies would change with another president in office?

One area where there probably would have been a genuine partisan divide is the issue of American funding for UNESCO. As we reported last night, the Obama administration has launched the process to re-fund UNESCO.

It’s seeking a waiver on a law that bans funding organizations that have essentially recognized a Palestinian state.

Ros-Lehtinen has objected to the administration’s request. Defunding UNESCO spooked other U.N. bodies into effectively squelching the Palestinian bid last year for statehood recognition. This would revive that bid, she reasons.

I can’t imagine, to the degree that I’ve made myself familiar with the various GOP presidential campaigns in recent months, any Republican president making a similar ask to the Obama’s administration’s waiver request. There is no Republican candidate with the same attachment to multilateralism as Obama.

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