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Elected leaders must stop putting party over country in foreign policy and national security

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As the malign influence of partisanship has infected more and more areas of American politics and policy, support for a strong alliance between the United States and Israel has nevertheless remained broadly bipartisan. Now there seem to be attempts to chip away at that consensus. They should be resisted by Republicans and Democrats alike because they are not in America’s interest.

The latest tempest in a teapot is about why more Democrats were not in Jerusalem on May 14, when the U.S. opened our Embassy there. Democrats say it was because they were not invited by the Republican administration. No, Republicans respond, neither side was invited but Republicans came and Democrats didn’t.

{mosads}This silly partisan squabbling is a long way from the strong bipartisan majorities in the Senate (93-5) and the House (374-37) that enacted the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act in 1995. It is also a petty distraction from the importance of the U.S. finally recognizing Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel.

When President Trump decided to implement the 1995 Act, after Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama chose not to, Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the Senate Democratic leader, issued a statement applauding Trump. Schumer’s thank you to the president reflected the unique bipartisanship that has characterized U.S. support for Israel since the Jewish State was re-established in 1948.

Votes in Congress also show consistent, overwhelming, bipartisan backing for the US-Israel relationship and for Israel’s security. That support in turn reflects the continuing strong, non-partisan attachment to Israel among the American people. A Gallup Poll released in March of this year showed that an impressive 74 percent of the public have a favorable view of Israel, with support coming from majorities of Republicans, Independents and Democrats. One news story about the poll was headlined: “American Support for Israel Among Highest Ever Recorded.” The American people understand that our two countries are bound together by strategic interests, and shared moral and political values that are much more important than petty partisan moves in domestic politics. The great majority of Democrats and Republicans who understand the importance of our relationship with Israel must protect it from being diminished by partisanship.

Of course, the problem of politics in foreign policy goes well beyond Israel and the Middle East. If our elected leaders want to find a way to stop it for the good of America, they can begin by looking at the modern model for bipartisanship in American foreign and defense policy established by Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, Republican of Michigan, who went from being an isolationist during World War II to joining President Truman in a post-war, bipartisan internationalist political alliance. In doing so, Vandenberg famously declared that partisan “politics stops at the water’s edge.” America and the world benefitted greatly from what was accomplished as a result of the Truman-Vandenberg partnership, including the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine (for countering Soviet expansion during the Cold War), and the Vandenberg Resolution (expressing bipartisan support for mutual defense agreements that opened the way to the North Atlantic Treaty and NATO, arguably the most effective military alliance in history).

Today, our politics has degenerated from such historic accomplishments in the national interest to tribalism and therefore often mindlessness. For example, if President Trump is for Foreign Policy A, a certain number of Democrats will be against it just because Trump is for it, and vice-versa for the Republican’s response to Democratic initiatives.

There are too many examples of partisanship eating away at our foreign and security policy. One is the reflective criticism of President Trump’s engagement with North Korea by some Democrats. Another is the defensive Republican response to Russia’s intrusion into American politics. In the not so distant past, an attack from abroad on the U.S. brought Democrats and Republicans together. It certainly did after Sept. 11, 2001, when we worked across party lines to strengthen our homeland defenses and reform our intelligence community. But when the Russians attacked the U.S. election in 2016 by cyber and other means, our political leaders went, like boxers, to their respective corners and came out punching each other instead of linking arms to defend the integrity of the political system that brought them to power. The result has been bad for America.

It is natural for there to be differences of opinion about foreign policy, but it is not natural or constructive for those differences to be partisan. When they are, we unsettle our allies, encourage our enemies, and weaken ourselves.

Today the world is as insecure as it has been in a long time with rising big powers challenging the U.S., extremist nations expanding and threatening us and our allies, and Islamist terrorists killing people wantonly. At such a moment in history, we cannot afford to take the risks that come from putting party over country in foreign policy and national security. It’s time for our elected leaders to return to Sen. Vandenberg’s rule and act as if they understand that: “Politics ends at the water’s edge.”

Joe Lieberman was in the U.S. Senate for 24 years, and is now Senior Counsel at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres LLC and Co-Chair of No Labels, an American political organization composed of Republicans, Democrats and Independents whose mission is to “usher in a new era of focused problem solving in American politics.”

Tags Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Foreign policy partisanship

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