The Washington Monument–a massive obelisk within sight of both the White House and Capitol — and Israel, a small democracy wedged in between its enemies — are not often mentioned in the same article or newscast.
However, with the $1.2 trillion sequestration cuts set to slash funding across the federal government within days, both Israel and the Washington monument have more in common than most realize.
Those similarities became exceedingly clear in a recent letter sent from Secretary of State John Kerry to Congress on how the pending budget reductions will impact foreign policy.
Confused yet? Let me explain.
Government spending battles are nothing new to Washington. Annual appropriations fights have threatened federal programs from the newest Pentagon acquisitions to farm subsidies. To demonstrate the potentially detrimental impact of any budget reductions, federal agencies inform Congress that the most popular and visible programs will bear the brunt of those cuts.
This theory is termed the Washington Monument Syndrome. When the National Park Service faces cuts to its budget, the agency does not threaten reduced hours at a small park in Kentucky or to end tours of a historical site in Nevada. Instead, the National Park Service warns that spending reductions will be affect all members of Congress in a highly visible way right when constituents are visiting their representatives in the nation’s capital, through closing the Washington Monument. (Clearly, this was more of a threat when the public could enter the monument before the earthquake led to its closing, anyways. But, the point is the same.)
In foreign policy, Israel is the Washington Monument. In both the House and Senate and across party lines, nearly all Democrats and Republicans support continued aid to Israel and often back an expansion to the security cooperation with Jerusalem. At even the prospect of cuts to Israel’s security, Members of Congress reaffirm their commitment to the Jewish state and send a message that the United States will not abandon its closest ally in the Middle East.
Kerry has been around Washington for a long time and knows that the best way to save programs on the chopping block is to replace them with the most vital and politically popular initiatives.
This bluff on slashing funding to Israel is not a policy statement that Israel isn’t important — quite the opposite. It’s an affirmation that the State Department and White House know the importance of continued support for Israel and to demonstrate that the rhetoric of budget cuts has real consequences — ones that threaten countless lives.
As the country nears the edge of the fiscal cliff, Congress faces a clear choice: make thoughtful, smart policy decisions to place the country on a strong economic path, or let the country’s Washington Monuments go dark.