(CNSNews.com) – Reinforcing his standing as a political maverick, Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul was one of just two House members to vote Wednesday against a bill to strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and Israel.
The libertarian lawmaker from Texas called the measure “another piece of one-sided and counter-productive foreign policy legislation,” charging that it would likely to lead to war with Iran, Syria or both.
The United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act attracted overwhelming bipartisan support, attracting 304 sponsors, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and passing by a 404-2 vote.
A Senate version of the bill, introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and co-sponsored by 33 senators from both parties, has been referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Joining Paul in voting against the House bill was liberal Democrat Rep. John Dingell (Mich.), the longest-serving member of the House. Nine members voted “present.”
The bill they declined to support calls for the U.S. to provide Israel with “the military capabilities necessary to deter and defend itself by itself against any threats,” to veto “one-sided anti-Israel resolutions” in the U.N. Security Council, to expand military and civilian cooperation, to help in a “peaceful, negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that results in two states living side by side in peace and security,” and to encourage Israel's neighbors to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
A “sense of Congress” section lists various specified actions to assist in Israel’s defense, including missile defense cooperation, expanded joint military exercises, and encouraging an “expanded role” in NATO for Israel, “including an enhanced presence at NATO headquarters and exercises.”
(Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an outspoken critic of Israel, has been working to hamper Israel-NATO cooperation.)
Paul took issue with several elements of the bill, including the call to help Israel preserve its qualitative military edge and the references to NATO.
“While I absolutely believe that Israel – and any other nation -- should be free to determine for itself what is necessary for its national security, I do not believe that those decisions should be underwritten by U.S. taxpayers and backed up by the U.S. military,” he said.
As for NATO – an institution he has long advocated is anachronistic and should be shut down – Paul charged that the legislation was looking for a new mission for the alliance – the defense of Israel.
The call for an expanded role for Israel at NATO, he said, “reads like a dream for interventionists and the military industrial complex. As I have said many times, NATO should be disbanded not expanded.”
Paul concluded that the bill would “implicitly authorize much more U.S. interventionism in the region at a time when we cannot afford the foreign commitments we already have. It more likely will lead to war against Syria, Iran, or both.”
‘Making Israel and America more secure’
In her speech in support of the bill, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a leading critic of the U.N., said the legislation “seeks to counter the Israel-bashing that has become common place in international forums such as the United Nations.”
“The United States must not allow Israel to be isolated and demonized in international organizations, and must work together to withdraw U.S. participation in and funding from organizations that do so,” she added.
“There needs to be a clear understanding by all those who would threaten Israel that the United States stands with her, because it is in our – the United States’ – security interest to do so, and because it is morally and ethically the right thing to do as well,” said Hoyer.
“The House has always demonstrated a bipartisan commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship and today we say we refuse to send mixed messages when it comes to America’s support for Israel,” said Cantor. “Today we demonstrate congressional support for important steps to make Israel and America more secure.”
In the midst of the bipartisanship on display during the debate, politics did make an appearance.
“It’s a maxim in history, it’s a truth that when a nation’s enemies see their strongest ally turning against them, that is when their enemies move against that nation,” said Rep. Louie Gomert (R-Texas).
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) took issue with what he considered an implication that the Obama administration does not share Congress’ strong support for Israel.
“The president of the United States has indicated that these bonds are unbreakable,” he said. “Any implication to the contrary is unfounded and seeks to undercut the very bipartisan nature of the support that is so essential to this relationship.”
The nine lawmakers who voted “present” on Wednesday were Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison (Minn.), Barbara Lee (Calif.), Betty McCollum (Minn.), Pete Stark (Calif.), Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), Andre Carson (Ind.), Donna Edwards (Md.), Lynn Woolsey (Calif.); and Republican Rep. Walter Jones (N.C.).