The Dec. 29 front-page essay on Harry Truman by this modest scrivener continues to generate a heartening response – and not just from Jewish Press readers, as the piece was featured on FrontPageMag.com and reprinted by the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle in Truman’s home state of Missouri.
Several respondents have taken the opportunity in their e-mails and letters to rate the various U.S. presidents who’ve held office since the creation of Israel and ask for the Monitor’s own assessment.
The following ranking, subjective and open to argument as such things always are, goes from worst (11) to best (1) and is based on an overall assessment of a president’s attitude, actions and consistency as well as whether his decisions and policies were a help or hindrance to Israel.
11. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) – Sure, he was the mediator between Egypt and Israel at Camp David, but Sadat’s initiative caught him completely by surprise after he’d foolishly agreed to bring the Soviets into Mideast talks. He never hid his intense dislike for Menachem Begin, made disparaging comments about Jews, and his foreign policy team was unusually hostile to Israel.
10. Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961) – The atmosphere improved to some degree during Ike’s final three years in office, but the relationship between the U.S. and Israel remained lukewarm throughout his tenure. Even so, it may have been an improvement over the Truman years – as Isaac Alteras writes in his comprehensive study Eisenhower and Israel (University Press of Florida), “if the Eisenhower administration was less free with pro-Israel declarations [than the Truman administration had been], it was more forthcoming with pro-Israel deeds.”
9. George H.W. Bush (1989-1993) – In many respects not as bad on Israel as his reputation would suggest. His administration successfully pushed the UN to rescind its 1975 “Zionism equals racism” resolution and rushed anti-missile defense systems to Israel during the first Gulf War, but his 1991 lectern-pounding attack on pro-Israel lobbyists and the hostility toward Israel exhibited by his secretary of state will forever overshadow any positives.
8. Gerald Ford (1974-1977) – The Kissinger-Ford “reassessment’’ of American policy caused a strain for several months, but U.S.-Israel relations remained relatively strong for the duration of Ford’s brief term.
7. John Kennedy (1961-1963) – Viewed in his day as friendly toward Israel, his Mideast policy was in fact almost as “even-handed’’ as Eisenhower’s. Hectored Israel almost non-stop on the Jewish state’s nuclear program and in 1962 wrote an absolutely craven letter to Egypt’s Nasser pleading for friendship and implying support for Eisenhower’s tough line toward Israel during the 1956 Sinai war.
6. Bill Clinton (1993-2001) – After enjoying an excellent relationship with the Rabin-Peres Labor government, showed a much colder face to Likud prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Showered terror chief Yasir Arafat with respect and affection, inviting him to the White House more than he did any other foreign leader.
5. Harry Truman (1945-1953) – His decisions to support partition in 1947 and statehood in 1948 were monumental, but his administration’s policy toward Israel from 1949 through 1952 was lukewarm. He refused to sell arms to Israel, and whatever economic aid he did extend was belated and miserly. His recognition of Israel would have been absolutely meaningless had the Arabs prevailed militarily.
4. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) – Probably felt personally closer to Israel than any other president save George W. Bush, but his administration had a number of serious policy disagreements with various Israeli governments through the 1980’s. Nevertheless, U.S.-Israel ties grew immeasurably stronger during his two terms in office.
3. Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969) – Dramatically increased economic aid and upgraded military sales to Israel. In contrast to Eisenhower in 1956, did not squeeze Israel to unilaterally retreat after the Six Day War.
2. George W. Bush (2001-present) – In his book The Price of Loyalty, former treasury secretary Paul O’Neill disclosed that just ten days after his inauguration Bush met with his senior national security team and declared: “We’re going to correct the imbalances of the previous administration on the Mideast conflict. We’re going to tilt back towards Israel.” Arguably the most pro-Israel of all U.S. presidents.
1. Richard Nixon (1969-1974) – His support for Israel was not as sentimental as Johnson’s or as heartfelt as Bush’s, but the bottom line is he saved the state from near-certain catastrophe in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. And that alone qualifies him for the number one spot on a list of this kind.