(June 26)

MOBILE, Alabama — All too often, once-powerful U.S. representatives are less remembered in history books than their Senate counterparts. Republican former Alabama Rep. H.L. “Sonny” Callahan, who died Friday at age 88, is one worth remembering.

Because the East Coast cognoscenti tend to look down on Alabama, very few Washington know-it-alls would have predicted that a former 18-wheeler driver from the heart of Dixie would have been the driving force behind a major, successful shift in the U.S. foreign aid packages to Israel (especially) and Egypt. Yet, that’s what Callahan did from his perch in the mid-1990s as the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations.

The shift involved phasing out long-running U.S. economic aid to Israel while increasing (by a somewhat lesser amount, but still increasing) U.S. military assistance. The key goal of the concentration on military assistance was to keep building Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over surrounding nations — an edge Israel uses to discourage attacks in the first place, thus maintaining peace with otherwise hostile nation-states.

“The Israeli military is more digitized, mechanized, and advanced in large part due to America’s commitment to supporting Israel’s QME,” said Jonathan Schanzer, the senior vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in a Saturday interview. “Israel’s is a small military, but it punches well above its weight relative to other militaries in the region.”

As numerous news accounts noted at the time, Callahan largely worked out the shift in direct dealings with then-and-future Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As Callahan’s chief of staff (and later, congressional successor) Jo Bonner recounted in a 2010 tribute, one time this entailed Callahan making a late-night flight all the way to Israel to meet with Netanyahu despite President Bill Clinton’s doubts that the plan was achievable…. [While sending condolences to Callahan’s family and friends…the full column is available here.]


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