X Close

Joe Biden’s legacy hinges on Gaza

The sclerotic embrace of a declining empire. Credit: Getty

October 18, 2023 - 4:45pm

Depending on your perspective, Joe Biden’s Middle Eastern diplomacy mission has come at either the best or worst of times. When the visit was planned, the region already stood paused at the edge of the abyss. Last night’s catastrophic explosion at Gaza’s al-Ahli hospital, claimed to have killed hundreds of refugees sheltering in its courtyard, threatened to plunge it straight towards its bloodiest depths. While daylight images of the impact site now appear to substantiate Israel’s assertion that the cause was an errant Palestinian missile, for neighbouring countries the matter is already settled, and the Jewish state is firmly at fault.

Last night, the scheduled summit in Amman between Biden and Egypt and Jordan’s rulers, along with the West Bank’s internationally recognised but powerless administration, was cancelled in protest. Brushing aside their recent rapprochement with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have condemned the IDF for the blast. In Lebanon and Iraq, angry crowds marched to American embassies to denounce Israel’s superpower patron for the slaughter of Arab civilians, just as two US carrier groups and a Marine expeditionary force sail into the looming storm. 

America’s early expressions of unswerving support for Israel’s punitive expedition against Hamas have seen it assume regional blame for a mission whose expansive aims and inevitable mass civilian casualties seem to be causing the Biden administration alarm before it has even fully begun.

Biden has likely cautioned Netanyahu’s government to tone down its war aims to avoid a wider regional conflagration. As well as the expected expressions of unshakeable loyalty, he today notably warned Israel, “while you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it. After 9/11, we were enraged in the US. While we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.” Following America’s earlier public instructions not to think of occupying Gaza and to avoid unnecessary civilian harm, we should assume Israel was warned privately that world opinion places defined limits on American support.

Yet this may not be a cause of frustration for Netanyahu. Surprised by Hamas’s murderous rampage, Israel has already found itself off-balance against the group’s newfound capabilities. An Israeli ground operation against Hamas will be bloody and difficult, and there is no obvious or internationally acceptable solution for what to do with Gaza when victory is finally achieved. 

Despite calling up its largest army of reserve soldiers since the ultimately disastrous invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Israel will be sorely tested by simultaneously managing the ongoing and slowly escalating exchanges of fire with Hezbollah on the northern border, and any uprising in the West Bank provoked by Palestinian outrage at Gaza’s civilian suffering. 

America’s naval deployments to the region are a clear warning to Hezbollah not to think of exploiting the situation for their own benefit, yet they are also an admission that Israel may be losing control. An opportunity to de-escalate, or to pause the Gaza invasion to assess the regional situation, is not necessarily a hindrance to Netanyahu, particularly if he can direct any resulting domestic dissatisfaction towards Biden.

Yet whether a grieving and vengeful Israeli public will accept anything less than Hamas’s total extirpation is doubtful. His already divisive public image eroded further by the brutally successful Hamas raid, Netanyahu cannot afford any other result than overwhelming military success. 

The escalatory logic of recent days has driven the region closer towards a conflict of unimaginable scope and suffering, and yet Israel, Hezbollah and Iran are still cautiously micromanaging their clashes. For all its expressions of confidence, Israel has no more desire to fight a three-front conflict than America does to find itself dragged into war against Iran. Iran may calculate that it is worth sacrificing Hamas to avoid a wider war against a far stronger enemy, yet it may also consider the current moment of geopolitical flux an opportunity to remake the region that will never be repeated. 

The decisions made in the coming hours will determine whether the Middle East pulls itself back from the brink or hurls itself beyond it, but they will also define the historic legacy of the waning empire personified by Biden, shuffling amiably onto the tarmac in Tel Aviv.


Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.

arisroussinos

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

20 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
8 months ago

Having observed at close quarters on his visit to Ireland Biden’s habitual air of shambling bewilderment, I have no doubt that his lack of standing and credibility in the world is causing enormous damage to the defence of Western interests in the Middle East and elsewhere, and is a threat to us all.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

He’d have been way out of his depth in this situation in his prime, let alone now. The best we can hope for is he remembers who he’s talking to.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Its a lot better than having a loud mouthed buffoon, who never had any cognitive ability to begin with, running around shouting his mouth off telling everyone that he could solve it all in 10 minutes while the world looks on at the hideous embarrassment for the US.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
8 months ago

So it’s a good thing you’re not in charge, eh?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 months ago

Just think about how much more unstable the world is today then it was when Biden entered office. We have a war in Ukraine, a looming war in the Middle East, the humanitarian disaster of the American pullout from Afghanistan, people marching in the street chanting gas the Jews, the re-emergence of Iran from the trash heap, the growing ties between Iran and Saudia Arabia, the end of rapprochement between Israel and Saudia Arabia, and strengthened bonds between Russia and China.

And this is only the geopolitical consequences of that election. The global economy is teetering on the brink of disaster, an energy crisis was manufactured out of thin air and we have adopted social policies that punish and retard our children.

This administration will be remembered as possibly the worst in American history, and one that made life worse for the rest of the world.

At this point, I would run to the polls to vote for the orange man, even if he is sitting in a prison cell.

Buena Vista
Buena Vista
8 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

You are quite right, Jim. Stolen elections have consequences.

harry storm
harry storm
8 months ago

I believe the author’s mistake is to attribute political motives to Netanyahu at this time. Normally, of course, that would be the case, but there is nothing normal about what happened since Oct. 7. I am certain that, like all Israelis, Netanyahu is focused on a single goal: the elimination of Hamas. Whether or not this is possible is another matter. I just don’t think he’s thinking about political advantage at this time. This is not an armchair time for Israelis.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
8 months ago
Reply to  harry storm

Netanyahu only ever thinks about what is best for Netanyahu. There is no other consideration.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago

On this occasion I happen to agree with you

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 months ago

Geez, I can’t stand the censorious thugs that moderate this website. Another perfectly tint comment booted to moderation.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago

I am not sure if Biden has any control over his foreign policy apparatus. If the war in Ukraine is anything to go by there seem to be too many escalatory tendencies in the Neo- Con clique of Nuland, Blinken etc
Why can’t the US pressurize Quatar to make Hamas release the hostages taken by Hamas?
The way things are building now- Iran and Saudi Arabia moving closer, US warships facing off against Russian ones in the Black Sea, the entire Arab caucus snubbing the West…it is not looking good.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago

What leverage does the USA have on Qatar?

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago

A firm ally. There is a US military base there.

Will K
Will K
8 months ago

Joe’s legacy is already established. Covid mandates, Fracking, Ukraine, Taiwan, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, China….

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
8 months ago
Reply to  Will K

Fracking?

j watson
j watson
8 months ago

Sense so far that US is steering a narrow but needed line in what is a v complex and highly emotive situation.
Destruction of Hamas will be supported but US moderating how IDF goes about this. Iran will be too nervous to escalate as it has a fragile situation at home that could flare up if it miscalculates. Hezbollah may be tempted but knows it’ll provoke overwhelming retaliation.
Sunni Arab nations will condemn Israel in public but do little to support Hamas and may in time return to the idea of guaranteeing Gaza peacekeeping.
Bibi probably out at next election. Israeli’s won’t forget this happened on his ‘watch’ whilst he and the right wing zealots had been weakening Israel from the inside out by sowing division and discord.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago
Reply to  j watson

accidental double-post

Last edited 8 months ago by Brendan O'Leary
Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
8 months ago
Reply to  j watson

A near perfect parody of Whitehall bureaucratese. Well done.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
8 months ago

I guess after Afghanistan and the Ukraine, this is the ´3 strikes and you´re out´ argument. But a successful 3rd strike will also alienate his fanatical young voting base, 18-35 year olds.

Last edited 8 months ago by Tyler Durden
Emmanuel MARTIN
Emmanuel MARTIN
8 months ago

With 20% inflation, a “not so cold” civil war, dollar collapse, thousands of fentanyl deaths and an education system in shambles, no true American gives a f**k about a shithole north of Egypt that has been at war anyways for the last 50 years.
Idiot author is projecting his deviant fantasies and wasting readers time.