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Fear of Obama’s Second Term Overblown

Former Israeli Minister for Congressional Affairs in Washington, and a top expert on relations with the U.S., Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, thinks Israeli fears of a hostile second term Obama presidency are overblown.

In an interview with Arutz 7, Ettinger explained that contrary to popular perception, “The bottom line is that a second term president is always weaker than a first term president. This is true for all second term American presidents other than one – James Monroe. A second term president becomes less and less relevant for both chambers of Congress from the day of his reelection. This this was true for Clinton’s second term, Reagan’s second term, as well as Nixon’s, Lyndon B. Johnson’s, Eisenhower’s etc.”

“When it comes to the possibility of President Obama winning reelection – whatever he may try to do, he will need the support of Congress.  If Israel further cultivates its ties with the Legislature and leverages the immense goodwill toward it on Capitol Hill, then Obama will be severely constrained a far as any possible negative initiatives Vis–a-Vis Israel.”

Arutz 7: What about the famous statement by Obama to Russia’s Medvedev, in which he said “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility”? Doesn’t that indicate Israel may be facing a big problem during Obama’s second term?

YE: “It all depends on whether Congress goes along or if Congress remains passive. Congress usually prefers for the president to deal with national security and international issues, allowing Congress to deal with the domestic arena, which is more central for congressmen’s reelection efforts.

However, the legislature has muscle to stop and constrain a president, to force a president to make a U-turn and also to initiate national security and international relations policy.

“Congress does that when it feels that the President has betrayed the trust of the American people. When Congressmen feel that the president assumes that he is omnipotent and acts against the interest of their constituents.

In Israel’s case, the support is bipartisan; it is solid in a very rare fashion, because Israel is very popular on the congressional agenda on both sides of the aisle.

It requires, however, the Israeli government to be in touch with the American democracy and stop looking at the legislature as supporting actor, deluding itself that when it comes to national security and foreign policy the president calls the shots. This is contrary to the Constitution and to the track record of the United States.

We saw this when the Bush Sr. / James Baker administration, the worst thus far in terms of relations with Israel – when they vilified Yitzchak Shamir, painting him as anti-peace, Congress initiated legislation extending U.S.-Israel cooperation in an unprecedented manner and each item was passed in defiance of Bush Sr. and Baker, who threatened veto retribution etcetera, but they were rolled over by Congress.

“The same applied when [Sen. Henry] ‘Scoop’ Jackson initiated the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which was responsible for the Aliyah of over one million people to Israel. It was passed despite opposition by the Nixon/Kissinger administration and even some objections by the Israeli government.”

Arutz Sheva: What about a scenario in which the UN Security Council drafts an anti-Israel resolution and the U.S. refuses to veto it?

YE: Even last February, when the U.S. cast a veto on an Arab resolution at the UN Security Council condemning Israeli settlements as an obstacle to peace, it was because Democrats on Capitol Hill made clear they would not tolerate less than a veto. If it had been left up to the Obama-Clinton-Susan Rice team, there probably would not have been a veto. It boils down to Israel leveraging the congressional muscle, or relegating Congress to a secondary role. By mistreating Congress as a second-rate arm of government, Jerusalem, in a way, slaps the face of American democracy.

“When we hear that Jerusalem should not work behind the back of the White House – any such claim is divorced from the American political scene. Any freshman lobbyist knows that the first and foremost place to advance your agenda is Congress.”

Arutz Sheva: and this still holds true for a second term president?

YE: “Absolutely. The reason second term Presidents are inherently weaker than the first term Presidents is that the political life expectancy of a legislator is remarkably different from that of presidents. Presidents run every four years, so supposedly a second term president doesn’t need anyone anymore, but that is precisely the source of his vulnerability.

“Congressmen, and especially legislators from his party, know he thinks he’s omnipotent and that he cares less about them. They run every two years, and every two years, everyone on Capitol Hill is involved in the races except for the president. The legislators are not going to sacrifice their own political future on the altar of the president’s agenda. This creates a rift that weakens the president who needs the legislature to push his agenda through

Arutz Sheva: Surely Netanyahu, who received so many standing ovations in Congress, is aware of all this?

YE: “Never assume anything… Standing ovations are great, but the first misunderstanding is to assume that Capitol Hill is a place for public diplomacy. Capitol Hill is the place for legislation. To have public diplomacy as the overriding and only item on the speech is a mistake. When you speak with House members or Senators you have to leave behind you certain legislative ideas. If you don’t, then you have missed an opportunity.”





The post-1967 turning point of US-Israel cooperation

Israeli benefits to the US taxpayer exceed US foreign aid to Israel

Iran - A Clear And Present Danger To The USA

Exposing the myth of the Arab demographic time bomb

Congress – the co-equal and systematic ally of Israel

Presidents propose and Congress disposes

On September 23, 2021, the US House of Representatives voted 420:9 to replenish the Israeli-developed defensive “Iron Dome” missiles, which are increasingly manufactured – and eventually exported – by the US defense company Raytheon, that benefits from the battle-tested “Israeli laboratory.”

The overwhelming vote reflects Congressional realization that the “Iron Dome”:

*Enhances Israel’s posture of deterrence, which is critical to the survival of all pro-US Arab regimes and minimization of regional instability;
*Reduces the need for full-scale Israeli wars on Palestinian and Islamic terrorism;
*Provides an alternative to Israeli military ground-operations against Palestinian terrorists, which would entail substantial Israeli and Palestinian fatalities;
*Represents joint US-Israel interests, militarily and technologically, in the face of mutual threats (e.g., Islamic terrorism) and mutual challenges (e.g., developing world-class, game-changing technologies).

*Constitutes another example of the systematic support by Congress of enhanced US-Israel cooperation.

The decisive role played by Congress in the replenishment of the “Iron Dome” underscores the cardinal rule of the US political system: The President proposes, but Congress disposes.

The involvement of Senators and House Representatives in foreign policy and national security-related issues has surged since the Vietnam War, Watergate and Iran Gate scandals, the dismantling of the USSR (which transformed the world from a bi-polar to a multi-polar) and rapidly-expanding globalization.

In fact, former Secretary of State, Jim Baker, complained about the growing congressional assertiveness in the area of foreign policy: “You can’t conduct foreign policy with 535 Secretaries of State….”  Former Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, criticized Congress for micromanaging the defense budget: dictating how much to spend on particular weapons, imposing detailed requirements and programmatic restrictions, venturing into policy-setting and requesting that the Department of Defense submits mountains of reports.

Congressional muscles 

The US Congress is the most powerful legislature in the world, and it has demonstrated its co-equal, co-determining muscle in the areas of foreign and defense policies on many occasions, such as:

*Imposing sanctions against foreign countries in defiance of Presidents Clinton, Obama and Trump (e.g., Egypt – 2012, Iran – 1996-97 and 2013, Russia – 2017);
*Non-ratification of the 2015 JCPOA, which enabled withdrawal by the US;
*The 2009 non-closure of the Guantanamo Detention Camp was led by Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (NV-D), in defiance of President Obama.
*The 2009 non-confirmation of Charles Freeman to the Director of National Intelligence was led by Senator Chuck Schumer (NY-D);
*The 1999 non-ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in defiance of President Clinton and the international community;
*The unprecedented expansion of US-Israel strategic cooperation took place despite stiff opposition by President Bush and Secretary of State Baker;
*The Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act overrode President Reagan’s veto;
*The 1984 Boland Amendment aborted President Reagan’s financial and military aid to anti-Communist elements in Nicaragua;
*The 1983 blocking of President Reagan’s attempted coup against the Surinam pro-Soviet regime;
*The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act mandated congressional authorization of surveillance of persons and organizations, which may threaten national security;
*The 1975/76 Tunney (CA-D) and Clark Amendments stopped financial and military covert support of the opposition to the pro-Soviet regime in Angola;
*The 1973 Church-Case Amendment ended funding of military involvement in Southeast Asia;
*The 1973 War Powers Act overrode President Nixon’s veto;
*The Jackson-Vanik Amendment preconditioned aid to Moscow upon free immigration.

Congress empowered by the Constitution

As documented in the aforementioned paragraphs, one is advised to note that while Congress is preoccupied with District and State issues, it has the power to both propose and dispose in the areas of foreign and defense policies.

The US Constitution aspires for a limited government and a non-monarchical president, and therefore does not limit Congress to overseeing the budget. It provides the Senate and the House of Representatives with the power to act on strategic issues and policy-setting.

The Constitution accords Congress ”the power of the purse,” oversight of government operations, ratification of treaties, confirmation of key appointments, declaration of war, funding of military operations and cooperation with foreign entities, creation and elimination of government agencies, imposing sanctions on foreign governments, etc.

In other words, the President is the “commander in-chief” within constraints, which are set by Congress.


The post-1967 turning point of US-Israel cooperation

Israeli benefits to the US taxpayer exceed US foreign aid to Israel

Iran - A Clear And Present Danger To The USA

Exposing the myth of the Arab demographic time bomb