Bush can strengthen U.S. alliance
with uncontroversial and inexpensive actions
President George W. Bush comes to office with very low
expectations from the Jewish community.
But he has the opportunity to do many small things — most of which his
“best friend Israel ever had” predecessor, Bill Clinton, never did — that
can strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. Of course, he also could
make a few major decisions that could have an even more dramatic effect.
And the best part of the opportunities Bush has is that they have nothing
to do with the peace process and therefore are dependent primarily on
his good will rather than the actions of others.
One of the easy ways for Bush to strengthen the relationship is to expand
existing relations between the American and Israeli government bureaucracies.
Few people are aware that agreements exist between virtually every U.S.
agency and its Israeli counterpart. Frameworks for cooperation, what I
call “Shared Value Initiatives,” cover everything from space research
to education to fire fighting.
The president can encourage the agencies to continue and to expand existing
projects. More important, he could seek small amounts of money for implementing
the bilateral agreements that otherwise become moribund from lack of funding.
The two nations also benefit from several binational foundations that
provide grants for joint research in science, agriculture and commercial
technology. The acronyms BSF, BARD and BIRD may not mean much to most
of you, but they mean thousands — sometimes millions — of dollars to academic
institutions and companies around the country and in Israel.
Nearly 400 American institutions in 47 states, the District of Columbia
and Puerto Rico have received funds from these foundations, which are
financed primarily by the interest on endowments created by both governments
more than 20 years ago. The projects funded have produced dozens of scientific
breakthroughs, many with important practical applications.
An infusion of new money, a few million for each foundation, would have
an exponential impact not only for the recipients here and in Israel,
but to people around the world who benefit from the joint research.
One of Clinton’s few innovations in the U.S.-Israel relationship was
to create the U.S.-Israel Science and Technology Commission. Unfortunately,
after it was announced with some fanfare in 1993, it was neglected and
never fulfilled its potential.
Bush should rejuvenate the USISTC to promote development of agricultural
and environmental technologies and assist in the adaptation of military
technology to civilian production.
Other little-known programs such as the Cooperative Development Research
Program, the Middle East Regional Cooperation Program and the Cooperative
Development Program, which help Israel assist other developing countries,
are also important to the overall goals of the United States and should
be continued and strengthened.
These types of programs are vital to the overall relationship and demonstrate
the depth and breadth of a friendship rooted in the values our nations
The other pillar in the alliance is our common interests. This administration,
which is far more strategically-minded than its predecessor, should be
especially appreciative of Israel’s role in the Middle East as the most
reliable supporter of American national security concerns.
Bush can help Israel fulfill this role, as well as give it the confidence
it needs to make the sacrifices for peace that will no doubt also be expected,
by enhancing the level of strategic cooperation.
The United States and Israel already have a series of cooperative arrangements
that make Israel something just short of a formal ally. Before Clinton
left office, negotiations were being conducted to move a little closer
to a formal alliance, but the talks foundered because of the U.S. side’s
reluctance. I hope Bush will renew these talks and finally recognize Israel
as a full ally with all the rights and obligations that entails.
Just before he left the White House, Clinton also told Israel that he
would recommend allowing Israel to buy America’s most sophisticated fighter
plane, the F-22. This “next generation” aircraft will not even be available
to the U.S. Air Force until 2005. Bush should implement this recommendation.
Earlier, Israel agreed to a reduction in economic aid in exchange for
increases in military assistance. Everyone recognizes that Israel no longer
has the same need for economic assistance it once did.
But the necessity for Israel to maintain its qualitative military advantage,
combined with the cost of hardware (one F-22, for example, costs $85 million),
makes it vital that the U.S. provide greater aid to make Israel’s arms
purchases (most of which are made from U.S. contractors) possible.
For all the credit given to Clinton during his term, he did little to
strengthen U.S.-Israel ties in the long-term. By action on these suggestions,
most of which cost little and are uncontroversial, Bush can be the one
who truly leaves a lasting positive legacy on the special relationship.