Trump is worse than Obama on Israel and foreign policy, GOP senator says
Current Republican front-runner ‘completely misunderstands’ value of US-Israel ties, fumes Lindsey Graham
Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.
Donald Trump’s vision of America’s role in the world is worse than that of US President Barack Obama, a senior Republican lawmaker said Wednesday, describing ideas advanced by the front-runner in the race for his party’s presidential candidate as “dangerous” to the entire world.
“I’ve been very critical about President Obama’s leading-from-behind foreign policy and his lack of judgment when to comes to understanding radical Islam and his antagonism, at times, when it comes to Israel,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said. “But what I’m suggesting is that what Trump says is worse.”
Graham, who also sought the Republican nomination but quit the race in December, lambasted Obama for failing to understand that the US is the “glue that holds the free world together.”
Yet Trump, he added, “has less an appreciation of that than even Obama. What I hope for is an American president who understands that America must lead from the front, that the relationship with Israel is value added to America, not a drain, and that the world is in chaos and that now is the time to push back against Iran and against Russia, and to bring stability.”
Trump’s suggestion that South Korea and Japan might develop their own nuclear programs to fend off the North Korean threat is “crazy” — since Washington cannot support nuclear proliferation — and his statement insinuating that Saudi Arabia is not an American ally is “very dangerous,” Graham said.
“I believe that if Trump’s the nominee, the Republican Party would get beat badly [in the general elections] and that it puts our House and Senate majorities at risk. I’ve been as open as I know how to be: He would be the worst nominee we could pick.”
In an telephone interview with The Times of Israel, the lawmaker, who led a Congressional delegation to Israel this week, criticized Trump for wanting to remain “neutral” in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and for suggesting Jerusalem pay back the financial aid it receives from the US.
“To suggest neutrality when it comes to the peace process is a misunderstanding of the consequences of the deal. You start the process with a nonnegotiable concept: Israel’s security and its identity as a Jewish state are nonnegotiable,” he said.
“Clearly, neutrality in negotiating a peace agreement is the worst possible signal you could send — to both sides, quite frankly.”
Trump’s statement that Israel return the foreign aid it receives from Washington “is a complete misunderstanding of the value of the relationship between the US and Israel,” Graham said.
“We have economic ties to Israel that benefit the American economy… Without a democratic Israel the whole region would further deteriorate. This is not a drain on the American taxpayer; this is a mutually beneficial relationship, and I can’t think of a better use of American taxpayer dollars than to reinforce a stable democratic Israel at a time of great upheaval.”
Trump, on the other hand, “clearly doesn’t understand the value of Israel to the United States,” the US legislator said.
However, the senator pledged to work with whoever wins the elections — “even it it’s Donald Trump” — to reinforce the relationship between the US and Israel.
“I do want the people of Israel to understand that presidents come and go. But one institution that is enduring is the Congress. Historically, there has been bipartisan support for the State of Israel.”
US-Israel ties are strong, independent of the two countries’ current leaders, Graham posited. “Bibi [Netanyahu] and Obama had their differences. The relationship is bigger than them, it’s bigger than Trump, it’s bigger than [Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary] Clinton. The ties between the countries are deep and binding. We have common values, common enemies and a common view of mankind. That’s the underpinnings of the relationship. Congress, no matter who’s president, is going to be pro-Israel.”
‘I will do everything I can to squeeze some money out of a tight budget to help increase funding for Israel’
The former US Air Force officer criticized Clinton for over-emphasizing Israel’s settlement policy as an impediment to peace — “which it isn’t,” he said — and for supporting the nuclear deal with Iran, which he deems disastrous. However, the senator said the former secretary of state would likely not back a Palestine-related resolution at the United Nations Security Council. But, Graham said, “How she would be on foreign policy is yet to be determined.”
The senator refused to discuss whether Jerusalem should accept the current offer from the Obama administration over an increase in US military assistance to Israel, or wait for the next president and hope for a more generous aid package.
As chairman of the Senate’s Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, Graham is responsible for foreign aid and military assistance to other countries and multilateral organizations. In the next five years, the threats facing Israel are only going to increase, and “I will do everything I can to squeeze some money out of a tight budget to help increase funding for Israel,” he vowed.
“Israel has to decide what to do and when to do it. But I can say this: we’ll have more money this year than potentially next year, because sequestration kicks back in,” he explained, referring to spending cuts the US federal government enacted in 2013.
“I don’t know who’s going to be in charge of Congress in 2017, but I know I am in charge of the account today. Israel’s got to make a strategic decision, and I’ll leave it up to the Israeli government to figure out how to negotiate this. I’ll do whatever I can as a chairman of this subcommittee that deals with foreign financing to be as generous as possible, realizing the budget is very tight.”