With majority Democrats locked in a bitter internecine struggle over just how much of Joe Biden’s domestic agenda they can pass in one fell swoop, the party’s progressives have once again corralled their fellow Democrats into a box canyon.
Amid the complicated internal negotiations over how or even if Democrats will pass a hard infrastructure bill, a mammoth “infrastructure” supplemental that involves rewriting much of the American social contract, a resolution to fund the government, and a debt-ceiling hike to ensure we don’t fault on our debts, the party’s left flank has now introduced a new and unnecessary ingredient into the mix. On Tuesday, House progressives managed to strip a provision that funds Israel’s missile-defense system “Iron Dome” from a continuing budget resolution. The question is, why?
A clear affirmation of the rationale for this position is hard to come by. In the past, progressives have issued vague and logically deficient claims that paring back American support for Israel’s defense would force Jerusalem to recommit to the peace process with the Palestinian territories. That logic does not change, even as Israel’s government, the regional environment in the Middle East, and the internal dynamics in the two markedly distinct and noncontiguous Palestinian territories do. It is a conclusion in search of a rationale. So, we’re left with what House Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal confessed was her motivation: There’s just “no reason for us to fund that right now.”
Really? This relatively paltry $1 billion appropriation is where progressives rediscover a sense of fiscal propriety? That’s hardly convincing given the priorities the left is committed to funding: “free” kindergarten and community college, vision and dental benefits in the imminently insolvent Medicare program, and a plethora of green-energy giveaways to preferred constituencies, among much else. The gargantuan $3.5 trillion cost of this initiative is what progressives chose to highlight more often than what the bill is supposed to achieve. Indeed, as Politico reported, progressives believe this price tag is indicative of the left’s willingness to compromise. After all, progressives like Rep. Jayapal initially demanded a $6 trillion spending spree. So, you’re welcome.
Moved to emotional impertinence during May’s conflict in Gaza in which the Iron Dome played a key role, some progressives were more open about their aims: “Unlike Israel,” Ilhan Omar wrote in May, “missile defense programs, such as Iron Dome, don’t exist to protect Palestinian civilians.”
In other words, Hamas’s inability to intercept discriminate rocket fire launched in retaliation against their own highly indiscriminate rocket-propelled artillery barrages perpetuates conflict. The Washington Post was more succinct in a May headline: “Israel’s Iron Dome defense system protects Israeli lives,” they wrote. “It also perpetuates the Israel-Gaza conflict.” In other words, without the body count Hamas’s rockets would produce in the absence of missile defense, Israel has less impetus to pursue “political solutions” to the conflicts with the various Palestinian territories.
To state this proposition as plainly as possible, more Israelis must die if there is to be peace. The logic articulated here is so sordid that it’s understandable why progressives would fail to articulate it plainly.
On top of being ghoulishly cruel, it is an idea that is strategically unsound and devoid of almost any theoretical basis. We know what this conflict would look like in the absence of this system because most of us remember a time before Iron Dome’s relatively recent introduction. That was a time that did produce more Israeli casualties as a result of rocket barrages from within Gaza. It was also a time that involved far broader and bloodier Israeli responses to those provocations, including costly ground operations that produced vastly more Palestinian deaths. The elimination of this entirely defensive system of radar installations and interceptor missiles would produce more violence and destruction, not less. To hear the left’s more honest members tell it, that’s not necessarily an undesirable outcome.
Fortunately, and despite their outsize influence on committees, it’s not hard to find Democrats across their party’s ideological spectrum condemning (albeit obliquely) the left and the setback they’ve dealt their colleagues. Democrats are now forced to clean up after their blinkered congressional allies. After spending his evening on the phone talking interested parties from Jerusalem to Washington off the ledge, House majority leader Steny Hoyer promised on Tuesday to reverse the damage his leftwing colleagues had done with a stand-alone vote that will restore funding for Iron Dome.
This will not, however, be the last time that Democrats are forced to mop up the wake their ideologically rigid progressive friends leave if only because it isn’t the first. Until Democrats understand that the costs associated with the influence of “Squad”-type legislators are steeper than the benefits, the embarrassments will continue.