Published November 30, 2012
This holiday season, the people of the world can be thankful for the tentative ceasefire that put a stop to the latest violent conflict between Israel and Hamas.
And the world can also be thankful that the fighting revealed two big myths about American foreign policy.
First, there is the argument – often put forward by left-wingers – that any missile defense shield is a fantasy, a waste of money and unworthy of U.S. support.
Beginning in 1983 with the creation of President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, critics have attacked the idea as better suited for science fiction – calling it “Star Wars.” They said that the laws of physics made such a project virtually impossible – like trying to hit a bullet with another bullet.
As a journalist covering the Reagan White House, my phone rang off the hook with hooting from the skeptics. They said there was no clear evidence that showed the technology existed to shoot down an aerial missile from the ground-based missile.
But in a Wall Street Journal news story from Tel Aviv this week, the Israeli military reported an 84 percent success rate from Iron Dome – meaning Israel hit 84 percent of Hamas missiles. Some press reports and military assessments put the number closer to 90 percent.
Military scholar Max Boot wrote for Commentary magazine’s website this week that the Iron Dome was proof that “Missile defense works,” and that was the “latest vindication for the vision of Ronald Reagan.”
Let’s also acknowledge that missile defense technology is far from perfected.
For one thing, the Israelis were defending against missiles fired from Gaza, which is less than 100 miles away.
But one key believer in the efficacy of a missile shield appears to be President Obama. Earlier this year, with the support of Congress, President Obama authorized $70 million in aid to Israel to help fund the Iron Dome program.
This funding was in addition to the $3.1 billion in aid to Israel, the president requested this year. That amount was not just the largest request for assistance to Israel; it is the largest foreign aid request for any country, ever in U.S. history.
That brings me to the second big misconception revealed by the recent Israeli-Hamas conflict.
Republicans who doubted President Obama’s commitment to the security of Israel have been proven wrong by the president’s steadfast support of Israel in this crisis.
Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, made this point in a post on his official Facebook page last week
“The president repeatedly upheld Israel's right to defend itself and placed the blame of the violence entirely on Hamas. The people of Israel thank Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her tireless efforts to broker a ceasefire and to enhance security in our region. And the people of Israel want to thank the president and Congress for their generous backing of Iron Dome, Israel's revolutionary anti-missile system that intercepted more than 400 terrorist rockets.”
The outgoing Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, has even said of President Obama’s first term, "I can hardly remember a better period of American support and backing, and Israeli cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us than what we have right now.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee made a similar statement before the presidential election, saying “President Obama and the bipartisan, bicameral congressional leadership have deepened America’s support for Israel in difficult times.”
This praise makes Mitt Romney’s claim during the campaign that President Obama “threw Israel under the bus” look all the more laughable.
The 2012 presidential campaign was sorely lacking in any meaningful discussion of U.S. foreign policy and military policy. Romney barely mentioned foreign policy in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention – and made no mention of the war or the troops.
And the intense politics surrounding the U.S. relationship with Israel make it difficult to have straight-forward, honest discussions about U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East.
In the old American West it was famously said that the sight of the hangman’s noose had the ability to focus the mind.
Today a conflict that threatened to start World War III helped to clarify the facts about U.S. policy in the Middle East.