The late Senator Daniel Inouye, chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee and the president pro tempore (the third in line for the U.S. presidency, after the vice-president and the House speaker), was the most effective architect ever of mutually beneficial U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation. He was a tenacious defender of the U.S. Constitution and the role of the legislature as a co-determining, co-equal branch of government. He was a humble American patriot and a realist who rejected wishful thinking in the interest of advancing U.S. national security.
In 1990, while most foreign policy and national security mavens were under the spell of the “peace dividends” mirage — following the dismantling of the U.S.S.R. — Inouye, then chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, alarmed Capitol Hill about the Iraqi and Iranian “sandstorms” threatening U.S. economic and national security interests.
While lowering the U.S. military profile in post-Cold War Europe, Inouye initiated a series of amendments, leveraging Israel’s unique capabilities and enhancing the win-win U.S.-Israel cooperation in the face of mutual challenges in the Middle East and beyond (counterterrorism, missile defense, military intelligence, battle tactics, industrial research and development).
Inouye initiated a significant transfer of U.S. military systems from pacified Europe to Israel, due to Israel’s geographic location, which is critical to vital U.S. economic and national security interests. This enhanced the U.S.-Israel posture of deterrence in the Middle East, reassuring pro-U.S. Arab allies such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and deterring anti-U.S. rogue regimes such as Libya, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Inouye was also responsible for expanding pre-positioned ammunition and medical supplies, in Israel, for American use during Middle East emergencies.
Inouye’s amendments were signed into law, in defiance of President George H. W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, who were on the verge of cutting off their noses to spite their faces, by holding the win-win bilateral cooperation initiatives hostage to their opposition to Israel’s settlements policy.
Bush and Baker opposed Inouye’s amendment to upgrade the facilities of the Israeli ports of Haifa and Ashdod in the crucial eastern flank of the Mediterranean, for the benefit of the Sixth Fleet. During one of the exchanges with the secretary of the Navy, Inouye said: “Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress possesses the oversight authority, and as the chairman of the Defense Subcommittee I’ve concluded that the Sixth Fleet would benefit from the upgrade.” The port of Haifa was upgraded and became the favored port for Sixth Fleet repairs, maintenance, training and recreation.
Upon learning that Baker did not implement an amendment that stipulated an expansion of U.S.-Israel counterterrorism cooperation, Inouye sent a letter threatening to “fence” part of the counterterrorism budget. Implementation was underway by the following day.
AIPAC officials were concerned about the Bush/Baker opposition to the Inouye amendments. They suggested that “the legislative pipe may not bear such a huge traffic.” Inouye quipped back, “I am the chairman and I know that the pipe can bear such traffic.”
Inouye was aware — more than most legislators and observers of Congress — that the U.S. Constitution provides Congress with the power to both directly shape foreign and national security policy and to constrain presidential actions.
In 2001, Inouye briefed Dr. Uzi Landau, then Israel’s homefront security minister, on Israel’s unique contributions to the national security of the U.S. “The scope of intelligence received by the U.S. from Israel exceeds the scope of intelligence received from all NATO countries combined,” Inouye said. He then contended that the Soviet military hardware (such as the P-12 radar and the MiG-21 and MiG-23 fighter aircraft) — captured by Israel and transferred to the U.S. — tilted the global balance of power in favor of the U.S. and amounted to a mega-billion dollar bonus to the U.S. defense industries.
Jointly with Senator Bob Kasten (R-Wis.), Inouye introduced the 1992 legislation to extend $10 billion for loan guarantees to Israel, and the 1987 legislation to allow Israel to refinance its exceptionally high-interest loans, which saved Israel some $2 billion over 20 years.
In 1993, Inouye expressed his concern about the potentially devastating consequences of the Oslo Accords. He participated in the White House ceremony because “I could not disappoint my good friend, Prime Minister Rabin.” Once again, Inouye demonstrated his ability to vanquish wishful thinking, in defiance of political and social pressure.
During our last personal meeting, at his office, Inouye asked, “Are you aware of Daniel Inouye-like legislators, who will carry the torch when I am gone?” In the words of Bruce Springsteen, “When they built you, brother Daniel, they turned dust into gold; when they built you, brother Daniel, they broke the mold.”
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.