U.S. Military Aid to Israel is Like Food Stamps.

Russ Roberts’s recent EconTalk interview of Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, is fascinating. It’s titled, “Should Israel Depend on the US?“, February 5, 2024. I learned a lot. I’ll post about some of it later, but I want to focus on one of the biggest issues confronting the U.S. Congress: whether to provide more military aid to Israel.

Oren is against it. Also, libertarian Marc Joffe is against it. They come at it from different angles, but not entirely different.

First, Oren. Here’s part of his reasoning, from the transcript:

And I have long been [an] opponent–me, Mr. America-Israel, right?–I’ve been an opponent of the aid, for many, many reasons. And it’s everything from the fact that we are an affluent society. We’re a strong society. Receiving aid at this point is not consonant with our being. It sends the wrong message to the region–of dependency and weakness–certainly at a time when America’s foreign policy is unclear, when America is withdrawing from many areas of foreign affairs. The value of the aid was always greater than its monetary value [DRH: I think], the strategic value of that aid. It sent a message to everybody: Look, the greatest superpower in the world stands behind the State of Israel, and everyone should get that message. Well, how strong is that message today?

And we pay a price for the aid. We pay a price in terms of opportunity costs. You’re an economist. And we pay a price in the fact that we don’t actually get to buy what we want to buy. And, sometimes we buy things that we may not need that remain very costly. And, I’m thinking of one thing is the F-35 jet, which costs twice as much as any other jet to maintain. And it is the last manned fighter aircraft in history. And we’ve got it now for about 30, 40 years. Very, very expensive jet. Many issues like that.

But, the biggest issue now is the control it gives America over our foreign policy. It is a concession of sovereignty and the decision-making. And we see it now very poignantly. If you would have asked most Israelis on October 6th whether they believed that Israel could defend itself, by itself, against any Middle Eastern adversary or any combination of Middle Eastern adversaries, most Israelis would have said, “Of course, we can.” Ask the same question to Israelis on October 7th, and you get the same percentage of Israelis saying, ‘We can’t do that.’ We can’t get these [?]–we can’t tell the aircraft carrier strike groups, “Okay guys, we got it. You can go home. We’re in control here.”And no one’s willing to say that.

And here we have the Secretary of State [U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken] sitting in our War Cabinet–which is an extraordinary concession of sovereignty. I think there’s a deepening realization in this country–and I hate being the person ahead of his time–that we’re going to have to move on to something else. That one of the great goals of Israel, post-Gaza War, will be to achieve strategic independence from the United States of America.

When I read the first two paragraphs of the quote above, I had the thought that U.S. military aid to Israel is like food stamps.

Later, Oren said:

Well, actually, if you do the math, it comes out to something like $1 a month per American in aid to Israel. I mean, by the way, the aid is about $4 billion a year. And, you know what $4 billion buys you today in military terms? It buys you half of one Zumwalt-class destroyer. So, you’re paying a huge price for an aid package, which–okay, 40 years ago was 50% of our defense budget, but now it’s closer to 16%. And, you’re right.

I did some similar calculations a little over 12 years ago on John Stossel’s show when I was advocating that the U.S. government end its aid to Israel. Here’s what I wrote:

One thing that surprised me, when I researched to prep for the “debate,” is how small a percent of Israel’s GDP U.S. foreign aid to Israel is. It’s under 1.5 percent. As I noted, it’s hard to believe that without this aid, Israel would disappear.

Israel’s GDP is now about $500 billion. So $4 billion is now only 0.8 percent of Israel’s GDP.

Now here’s Marc Joffe of the Cato Institute. His post is titled “Does Israel Need U.S. Aid to Fight Hamas?Marc’s Substack, February 4, 2024. Marc argues largely from a fiscal viewpoint. Here are two key paragraphs:

Current budget projections show that Israel plans to spend another $33.5 billion on war operations on the assumption that they continue through the end of March. This is a large amount, but the Israeli government can accommodate it by cutting other spending, raising taxes, and borrowing.

Israel’s Debt/GDP ratio is only around 63% which is much lower than that of the United States at roughly 120%. Since the Biden supplemental does not have matching revenue, Congressional approval would increase US debt to assist another country facing a lower debt burden.

I agree with both Oren and Joffe.

I do have some major disagreements with Oren, especially on one issue in which he showed his tin ear in arguing that Antony Blinken had a tin ear. But I’ll leave that for another post, which will be up soon.

The pic above is of Michael Oren.