Wrong Man for the Job

Biden and the Sukkot War, Part I

As Israel finished a whole month of continuously shelling Gaza, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken returned to the region.

Unhelpful intimacy: Bibi and Biden.

You’re not alone if you don’t discern an American plan for the war. The Biden Administration has acted as though it was as unprepared for it as Israel.

There’s more to it than that. But that’s what makes Blinken’s diplomatic efforts all the more revealing.

Aside from preventing other parties, particularly Hezbollah, from entering the conflict and expanding the trickle of humanitarian aid to Gaza, Secretary Blinken reiterated the White House’s desire that Israel restrain itself in its bombing campaign, which, as of 6 November, had incurred 10,000 civilian casualties.

However, Israel has bluntly refused to do so, punctuating its refusal by increasing its attacks on hospitals, ambulances, and other targets that should be protected by international law.

The Biden Administration has offered no response to these wide-ranging attacks, preferring to reiterate Israel’s “right to defend itself” and continue resupplying it with arms and ammunition.

Launched from land, air and sea, the Israeli campaign has made it more difficult to negotiate the release of hostages held in Gaza.

The seemingly indiscriminate attacks may have even led to the deaths of Israeli captives, as Hamas claims that more than fifty of them have already been killed in air strikes.

The massive destruction in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza last week made the White House nervous, with concern growing that Israel’s actions could make the United States complicit in war crimes.

That this concern is only growing now says a lot about how detached Blinken and President Biden are from the realities around the world.

Still, there has been a marked change in the government’s tone.

In recent days, the White House has more strongly urged Israel to allow humanitarian “pauses” in the fighting so that more hostages can be freed and more aid can get into Gaza.

And now, it has added a desire to jumpstart a political process that would, in Blinken’s words, be focused on “how we can get, over time, to two states for two peoples”.

Reaching a two-state solution seems to be at the top of Blinken’s agenda for this trip.

As a practical matter, this carries little importance as both political and physical realities created by Israel over the past thirty years have rendered a two-state solution impossible.

But for the moment, it tells us a great deal.

Blinken and the rest of Biden’s inner circle are falling back on old and discredited ideas for lack of a strategic direction on the entire issue of Palestine.

They are also caught between competing interests for how to deal with the current moment.

Biden’s Motives

The US president is holding fast to a vision of America’s Arab allies forming a regional alliance with Israel that will stay in the US sphere of influence and resist Chinese enticements.

But there’s no reason to believe that China would be frozen out even if such an alliance were formed.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel all have productive bilateral relations with China. They all benefit from working with both Washington and Beijing.

Biden also sees that alliance as a bulwark against Iran.

But, again, that sort of military cooperation is already extant. While it could be deepened, most of that potential would come from Israel sharing intelligence and working closely with Arab Gulf states.

That would be far out of character for Israel, as it implies a relationship with those countries as close as it has with the United States and Europe.

Ultimately, the reason Joseph Biden’s attitude toward a budding genocide in Gaza seems out of step with his personality is that he has worked hard since re-entering the political arena in 2019 to project a false image of who he is.

Biden pretends to be a moderate who values diplomacy over war and who stands against bigotry. But his career tells a different story.

Far from standing against racism, Biden was the sponsor of the 1994 crime bill that led to record incarceration rates and was intentionally directed at communities of colour.

Far from being a champion of women’s rights, Biden, for decades, was one of the main Democratic defenders of the Hyde Amendment, which barred the use of federal funds for abortion.

The president only walked back his continued support for both of these things after months of pressure from fellow Democrats who knew they would undermine his chances in the 2020 election.

And, lest we forget, Biden was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee in 2003 and pushed hard for the invasion of Iraq. So he’s hardly a champion of peace.

Palestine is an issue that causes the liberal mask to fall from a great many racists. They will call loudly for democracy and self-determination, but Palestinians always have to prove they are “capable” of managing those things responsibly.

The racism in that idea, especially coming from Americans and Europeans, is not just repulsive; it is laughable. Joseph Biden’s pretence of standing for equality was always a thin veneer.

Both the monstrous attack on Israeli civilians of 7 October and Israel’s subsequent genocidal campaign in Gaza have shattered that veneer.

The confusion from some quarters about why a man like Biden would behave this way will be quickly dispelled when they realise this is just who he is and who he has always been.

Hiding from the American public

Most Americans across party lines support a ceasefire, an idea the Biden Administration opposes.

Rather than heeding popular sentiment, Biden decided to try to remove congressional oversight of arms transfers to Israel. He quietly put this provision in his recent request for supplemental aid to Israel.

The provision demonstrates plainly that Biden and Blinken are well aware that Israel is committing ghastly war crimes in Gaza and is using American-made weapons to do so and want to make sure this is not revealed through congressional oversight.

This contravenes US law, which forbids the use of American weapons in violation of human rights. Rather than rein Israel in, Biden is trying to hide the evidence.

One of the most striking features of Biden’s approach to Israel’s and Hamas’ actions is how opaque and insular it is. Foreign policy is usually formed through various parts of the executive branch, including the White House, State Department, Defense Department, National Security Council and other entities.

Yet, debate within the administration has been largely muted even though there is a great deal of disagreement in the State Department with what Biden and Blinken are doing.

Anthony Blinken’s response to that dissent has been to offer counselling and emotional support but brooking no debate over policy.

One State Department official told the Huffington Post:

It seems like all of the humanitarian and diplomatic brainpower at State is being sucked up into operational discussions and not into policy discussions, which I think tracks with the output we’re seeing: an administration that’s deeply focused on the operations aspects of humanitarian access and not sufficiently focused on the policy challenges.

Meanwhile, America’s allies in the region want Israel to stop its assault on Gaza, with Israel’s neighbour, Jordan, having recalled its ambassador to Israel until the Gaza onslaught stops.

Yet Biden wants Jordan, as well as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab allies, to be part of a comprehensive regional settlement to achieve a two-state solution and completely integrate Israel into the region.

They would surely be willing to be a part of such a process, but every bomb Israel drops on civilians in Gaza makes it much more difficult for them to do so. Biden and Blinken do not seem to grasp this elemental fact.

President Biden’s lack of a vision or strategy for America’s role in this conflict is worsening the disaster in Gaza, obscuring the major escalation happening in the West Bank, and threatening his political future domestically.

Photograph courtesy of US Embassy Jerusalem. Published under a Creative Commons license.