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 Arab Palestinian and Islamic terrorism;
- *Provides an alternative to Israeli military ground-operations against Palestinian terrorists, which would entail substantial Israeli and Palestinian Arab 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.
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.
Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger is author of "Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative" and can be found at https://bit.ly/3uii0cw. Yoram will be available for speaking engagements in the US during October 5-19, 2021: