Biden Has No Israel Policy

Column: The president's incoherence and the US-Israel divide

(Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)
March 29, 2024

On March 25, the United States abstained from a United Nations Security Council vote calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. (The resolution separately called on Hamas to release its captives.) It was the first time since the war began six months ago that America has failed to protect Israel from efforts at delegitimization through multilateral institutions such as the United Nations. The United States could have vetoed the resolution, as it has done in the past. It chose not to. The shameful decision emboldened Hamas terrorists and undermined our alliance with the Jewish state.

Just don't call it a change in policy. If you do, President Biden and his foreign policy team will become upset. "Our vote does not—I repeat—does not represent a shift in our policy," White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters. Asked about Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's calling off a delegation to Washington in response to the abstention, Kirby said, "The prime minister's office seems to be indicating through public statements that we somehow changed here. We haven't."

Thus, according to the Biden administration, the withdrawal of support at the United Nations is not a departure. Nor is Senator Chuck Schumer's (D., N.Y.) recent speech calling for new elections and a new government in Israel and describing Hamas and Netanyahu, as well as Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and "radical right-wing Israelis," as equivalent "obstacles to peace."

Vice President Kamala Harris's warning over the weekend that "any major military operation" in Hamas's last redoubt, Rafah, "would be a huge mistake"? That must not be different from earlier administration policy, either. After all, "I have studied the maps." It's one smooth continuum, we are supposed to believe, from Biden's visit to Israel and embrace of Netanyahu on October 18 to Biden's current oppositional posture toward Israel's tactics, strategy, and elected leader.

Well, then. The absurdity of the Biden position is not surprising. These are the same people who said that inflation would be temporary, that unauthorized crossings on the southern border were seasonal, that America would prevent al Qaeda and ISIS from recouping in Afghanistan, that the threat of sanctions would deter Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine, and that the president's age and memory aren't concerns because he is really mean to staff and swears a lot. Of course they would pretend that their turn against Israel, their lurch toward a ceasefire that would allow Hamas remnants to survive, was something else entirely. Gaslighting is not just a hobby for team Biden. It's a lifestyle.

On one level, though, I sort of sympathize with John Kirby. To change a policy, you must have a policy. And it is increasingly clear that the Biden administration has no coherent Israel policy, nor a coherent policy for the Greater Middle East. What the Biden administration has instead is a wish list. The items on this list sound nice to liberal ears: Defeat Hamas, free the hostages, capsize Netanyahu's coalition, end the war, jump-start the peace process. But the items are also numerous. They conflict with one another. They aren't prioritized in any way.

A policy implies a strategy, an alignment of ends with means. Yet Biden's end—the resolution of an irreconcilable conflict—is utopian. And his means—a Palestinian state—is worse than farfetched. A Palestinian state, if established under current conditions, would be a dictatorship that threatens the lives of everyone in its vicinity. A Palestinian state would not be a gain, but an error of galactic proportions.

To believe that a ceasefire would lead to a nonviolent Palestinian state and Israeli-Saudi normalization is to succumb to delusion. A ceasefire would leave Hamas's remaining brigades intact, emboldening its leadership and its followers in the West Bank, Lebanon, and elsewhere. A ceasefire would tempt Hezbollah to escalate its simmering conflict with Israel. A ceasefire would strengthen Iran and its proxies, including the Houthis. There is one way to restore security, reduce tensions, and promote regional integration: Allow Israel to prove its strength by ending Hamas as a coherent military force.

That answer might not satisfy the columnists who visit Biden in the Oval Office, flattering him with tall tales of historic achievements if only he bullies Israel into letting Hamas escape. It is no doubt easier to believe, as Biden and his national security adviser Jake Sullivan do, that there are no tradeoffs and that the dangers of radical Islamist movements can be wished away by reciting the mantra of a "foreign policy for the middle class."

And yet, by privileging domestic politics over serious policy, Biden has found himself, Commander-like, chasing his own tail. Biden says he supports Israel, while desperately trying to appease the anti-Israel vote in Michigan. He promises severe consequences for Iran, its militias, and the Houthis, while granting Iran a $10 billion sanctions waiver and looking elsewhere as soon as proxy violence tapers off. He voices his frustration with Netanyahu, while saying nothing as Hamas leaders visit with the Ayatollah Khamenei in Tehran.

"In balancing U.S. interests and priorities," writes my AEI colleague Danielle Pletka, "the White House and its allies in Europe will face two options: engage in a region ever more dominated by Iran and its proxies, or cede Iranian dominance, replete with a lethal nuclear weapons program. The choice should be obvious." If only it were obvious to Biden and the anti-Bibi Democrats, whose dislike of Israel's elected leader is blinding them to geopolitical reality. Absent a directed, sustained, and articulated policy of no daylight between the United States and Israel, the rift between America and her ally will widen and the world will grow more dangerous. Such is life with President Biden, amid a darkening international scene that, alas, has not changed one bit.