Biden Should Suspend Offensive Military Aid to Israel Immediately

Outrage and indignation from the President of the United States and his aides, no matter how great, no matter how many times expressed or leaked to the press, will not save the suffering people of Gaza. Nor will they restore the high standing previously enjoyed by the Biden administration’s foreign policy.Neither, sadly, will more “or

Powered by NewsAPI , in Liberal Perspective on .

news image

Outrage and indignation from the President of the United States and his aides, no matter how great, no matter how many times expressed or leaked to the press, will not save the suffering people of Gaza. Nor will they restore the high standing previously enjoyed by the Biden administration’s foreign policy.

Neither, sadly, will more “or else” conversations between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu like the one that took place on Thursday.

The White House indicated that in the conversation, the president “made clear that U.S. policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action on reducing civilian harm, stabilizing the humanitarian situation, and protecting innocent civilians.” There have been too many such conversations and too few constructive results.

Shortly after the meeting, Israel did announce the opening of another crossing into Gaza to enable the flow of humanitarian aid. While positive, this is just one step among many needed to stop the mass tragedy in Gaza.

To achieve the big changes that are urgently needed, only additional concrete actions—that thus far the U.S. has been reluctant to take—will suffice. Specifically, only an acknowledgement that providing arms to a murderer is irresponsible—and has made the United States complicit in the mass murder of innocents in Gaza—will do that.

Only using all the tools available to the world’s most powerful nation to both influence Israel to end its brutal rampage in Gaza and to embrace the only path to peace in the region—one that serves the goal of establishing two secure states, one for Israelis and one for Palestinians—will do that.

Sadly, it seems every U.S. administration must have a foreign policy debacle in the Middle East. It ought to be a source of humility for U.S. policymakers. But instead it is an enduring blind spot, apparently afflicting even among the most conscientious and gifted members of the U.S. policy community, such as those that lead the Biden foreign policy team.

A photo of a woman mourning in front of a destroyed building in Gaza City.

A woman mourns as Palestinians gather around the burned and destroyed Al-Shifa Hospital as Israeli forces withdrew in Gaza City.

Dawoud Abo Alkas/Getty Images

George W. Bush committed the greatest foreign policy error in modern U.S. history when he invaded Iraq, an act that even today makes Benjamin Netanyahu’s bloody slaughter in Gaza pale in comparison. Barack Obama’s sins were those of inaction, of inertia in the face of brutality in Syria and his failure to end the war in Afghanistan—even as many around him, including his vice president, were urging him to wind it down. Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal—at the urging of Netanyahu—made the region incalculably more dangerous and has enabled Iran to come to a point today where it is a borderline nuclear power, months away from possessing the ultimate weapon.

So, Biden is not alone in making a grave mistake in his Mideast policy. But his error is particularly poignant, because he understood so well the errors we have made before, and actively sought to avoid mistakes like those we have made in the past.

His error is painful both in terms of its consequences internationally and domestically, but also because it stands in such stark contrast to all the good achieved by this president. That includes the accomplishments of finally ending America’s forever wars, and ensuring the U.S. achieved the kind of real energy independence that would make us less vulnerable to the seemingly inevitable spasms of conflict of the Middle East.

And it included strengthening America by focusing on building our alliances in Europe and the Pacific, as well as repairing ties across the Middle East. And standing up to bad actors, like Vladimir Putin, and thus sending a message to all would-be aggressors that America would stand up to them and for the international order. And it included restoring decency to the American presidency after the crimes and excesses of Donald Trump.

…Netanyahu should never have been trusted, empowered, or effectively given the ability to heavily influence through his actions America’s standing in the world.

Now, that entire legacy has been tainted by Biden’s decision to embrace and empower a Netanyahu government that is neither a true ally of the U.S., nor a champion of the common values that have in the past (at least aspirationally) helped link the U.S. and Israel.

Netanyahu is corrupt. Netanyahu is a would-be autocrat who sought to dismantle Israel’s democracy. Netanyahu has brought extremists and terrorists into his ruling coalition. Netanyahu has systematically stripped away the rights of Palestinians and has been an active enemy of peace since he first arrived on the scene in Israeli politics. Netanyahu has openly sided with the MAGA extremist right in the U.S. and had a long flirtation with the other ethnonationalist autocrats of the world like Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orban, and Jair Bolsonaro. Netanyahu has made Israel dramatically less safe with his empowerment of Hamas and his inattention to secure along the border with Gaza.

A photo of Joe Biden with Benjamin Netanyahu

President Joe Biden sits with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an Israeli war cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv.

Miriam Alster/Getty Images

In short, Netanyahu should never have been trusted, empowered, or effectively given the ability to heavily influence through his actions America’s standing in the world.

While it was right and decent of President Biden to stand with the people of Israel in the wake of Hamas’ vile attack on that country on Oct. 7—and while it is indisputable that Israel has a right to defend itself and that Hamas should be held to account and neutralized as a threat in the region—within days of that attack, America began to make critical errors.

Despite the advice of many, we essentially gave a monster and a thuggish regime carte blanche. Worse, once the onslaught in Gaza began and its ghastly human toll began to mount, we continued to provide Netanyahu with the weapons he used—not recklessly, events persuasively suggest, but with purpose—to systematically obliterate Gaza, eliminate medical support and clean water for those who happened to survive, use starvation as a military strategy, and take far too few precautions to limit civilian collateral damage.

Israel undertook the collective punishment of the Palestinian people in the wake of the horrors of Oct. 7, and quickly exceeded many many times over the crimes of Hamas. Their anger was understandable. But their methods and goals were unjustifiable.

Hamas has never posed an existential threat to Israel. Much of Hamas’ strength came via actions approved by Netanyahu—in a cynical ploy to divide and delegitimize Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza. But no matter how many of its soldiers are killed, Hamas can never be fully eradicated.

The slaughter of innocents will only serve to produce—as American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan showed—more anti-Israeli extremists. The Netanyahu government’s approach has not only violated international law and shocked human decency, it has achieved precisely the opposite of its goals—weakening Israel’s economy, undercutting its standing, and, in a wholly unintentional grace note, restoring the world’s conviction that the two-state solution so long opposed by Netanyahu and his extremist clique was the only way forward if peace and stability were to be restored to the Middle East.

But still, as the civilian death toll grew—to 10, 20, 30 times the death toll on Oct. 7—as agony and famine began to ravage the innocent people of Gaza, and as both Israeli and American interests were being serially and gravely damaged, the U.S. continued to support Netanyahu, and defend the acts committed by his military. Ostensibly, this approach was taken to maintain influence with the Israelis so that we could ensure humanitarian aid would be provided, and that restraint against civilians would be honored as a goal. But none of that happened.

Time and again, Netanyahu publicly rejected, ridiculed and condemned American goals.

He made it clear over and over that not only was he the world’s worst ally—a genuine monster and architect of horrific war crimes—but that he reveled in mocking and disregarding his number one sponsor. He would take American weapons and use them not only against the people of Palestine, but against American interests and Biden’s standing. A man who wanted nothing more than to see Biden defeated this November was foolishly given enormous influence over the outcome of that election—to the detriment not only of Biden but of democracy in America.

Most recently, we have seen Israel attack and kill seven aid workers affiliated with the World Central Kitchen. The loss of their lives was no more or less painful than that of the other tens of thousands casualties of this war. But World Central Kitchen holds a special place in the hearts of American leaders, as a selfless provider of food to the needy in difficult conditions worldwide. Further, it is highly doubtful that the strike on WCK workers was an “accident” as Israel has claimed. Chef José Andrés, the founder of the WCK, compellingly made this argument in a Reuters interview and in a recent column in The New York Times.

President Biden was, according to one report, “outraged” by this attack. And yet, the same article that reported his anger also stated that the U.S. would not be changing its Gaza policy. Another reported that on the same day as the attack, the U.S. approved provision of more bombs to Israel.

At best, such a response looks weak and inert. But frankly, it also must be seen as insensitive and dramatically out of touch with a dark reality the U.S. has helped create. As it happens, it is also a view that is also out of touch with the perspectives of a majority of the American people.

At worst, however, staying the current course signals a willingness to be complicit in Netanyahu’s crimes against humanity. Continuing to provide offensive arms to Israel—even as these atrocities occur and the situation worsens—only underscores this view.

It is not just a “bad look” for the United States. It is a repudiation of all that the Biden administration has stood for throughout its string of successes and strong stands elsewhere around the world. It could become the defining error of the Biden presidency at precisely the moment when reelecting him is absolutely crucial to the preservation of our system of government here in America.

A photo of mourners in Palestine.

Relatives and friends mourn the death of Saif Abu Taha, a staff member of the U.S.-based aid group World Central Kitchen who was killed in an Israeli strike.

Said Khatib/Getty Images

It is time for a change. To be honest, it is long past time. People I speak to within the administration know it. Outside experts, even those associated with past aggressive U.S. policies in the Middle East, acknowledge it.

The U.S. must stop the provision of offensive weapons to Israel until it agrees to a ceasefire, to surging aid to the people of Gaza, to a plan to empower new Palestinian leadership and to embark on a path to a two state solution.

We must enforce laws on our books that require us to stop providing military assistance to nations that use it in violation of international law. We must, as with all aid, condition our assistance generally to ensure Israel, like any other ally, uses it in ways that advance U.S. interests. Recognizing the threat posed by Netanyahu and the damage he has done, we should work via whatever legal means are available to encourage new elections in Israel–like those called for by opposition leader Benny Gantz–so that the Israeli people can make a better choice.

We must move forward on the path to “the day after”—one that includes an end of Hamas as a viable threat and political force, as well as the release of the Israeli hostages held in hellish conditions for the past six months—as argued by Vice President Kamala Harris and others.

We must stop the hand-wringing. We have pursued a course that has not only been wrong, but disastrously wrong for many months now. More heated conversations with Netanyahu and his extremist cronies and dim-witted lackeys like Ron Dermer clearly will not fix this.

Joe Biden must align his policies in Israel and Gaza with the values and objectives that have defined his policies elsewhere in the world. His advisors must urge him to do so.

It is time to actively undo the errors of the past six months. It is time to realign U.S. policies with not only our own interests, but those of both the people of Israel and of their Palestinian neighbors. It is time to return to the side of what is right and just and to begin the very hard work of cleaning up the damage we have helped to cause in the months since Oct. 7.

Read More