Working Assumption in Israel: Biden Has Decided Not ‘To Become Entangled’ in Wars in the Middle East

President Joe Biden carries the burden of two previous bloody and expensive wars. He also knows that the great majority of Americans are fed up with foreign military entanglements. Limited responses are enough for the president on every front.

Given days of non-stop bad news, Joe Biden was due for some relief Friday with good news from a very important political front: inflation. Inflation was not only lower than last month, it dropped below the annual weighted level of 2%. For the first time since the height of the COVID-19 crisis, the consumer price index dropped one-tenth of a percent.

This is wonderful news for the president whose record was tarnished with the highest level of inflation in more than 40 years during the summer of 2022. In addition, public opinion polls are again showing that inflation is his major weak point in his race for a second term.

Is this reason enough for a potential voter to be any less harsh on the president?

Perhaps, but the entire situation reflects a level of weariness people have of the presidency and disappointment with his performance to the point that it appears nothing is changing people’s negative opinion. The queen of political cliches, “It’s the economy, stupid,” does not work here, but it never worked automatically.

We forget, but a more important and weighty poetic phrase has persisted for at least 50 years. “All politics is local,” said Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, a veteran politician and House speaker who reached the pinnacle of influence in Washington. O’Neill believed that most Americans don’t vote for complicated reasons, or global issues, or historical issues. They vote on what they understand and what they can put into action.

This was O’Neill’s way, as a popular politician from Boston, to put forth that Americans do not tend to look far beyond the horizon. This is correct with respect to domestic issues and correct many times over for foreign policy issues. A 150-year old axiom posits that Americans are not interested in the outside world. World War I placed this assumption in doubt, but the period of isolationism between the two world wars again affirmed this.

World War II, particularly the actions by the Soviet Union in the days after the war, convinced the United States to assume central leadership. However, isolationism, from time to time, returns to center stage. The level at which it had become absorbed in the genetic code became clear with the rise of Donald Trump and his battle cry, “America First.” He frightened anyone suspected of “globalism.” One of his national security advisers told this publication there was concern among the president’s men that he was plotting to withdraw the United States from NATO.

World War III

The Democratic Party has increasingly recognized that “globalism” is a millstone since Hillary Clinton lost the presidential race in 2016. At the time, globalism was linked to multilateral trade agreements, the chief source of contamination in the eyes of millions living in midwestern industrial states who suffered the decline of heavy industry and the drastic drop in their standard of living. Trade agreements would not have come into being but for broad bipartisan agreement that they were necessary. Trump managed to destroy this consensus.

The current presidential election race is painting globalism with different colors. Trump once again charged that Biden “will lead the U.S. to World War III.” There is reason to assume that this speaks to the heart of millions who fear that the hidden establishment, described as the “deep state,” is plotting to tie America up globally. In their eyes, patriots do not send their children or their neighbor’s children to distant battlefields and they do not finance other people’s wars in the name of “defending democracy.”

In general, an earlier generation of Republican presidential contenders tended to criticize Democratic presidents for being weak and for evading demonstrations of power. No longer. Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, who briefly threatened Trump’s chances in the primaries, warned a short time after the Gaza war broke out that the American fleet in the Mediterranean Sea is a sitting duck and that the United States should be careful not to become entangled in Middle East wars.

DeSantis’ remarks at the end of October were unexpected, coming shortly after Hamas attacked Israel and considering that DeSantis is a strong supporter of Israel. He, in fact, is trying to enjoy both worlds, claiming the president does too much and not enough. However, his willingness to criticize Biden’s foreign policy again confirms how much even a hint of foreign involvement is not popular.

In fact, four years ago, Trump authorized the assassination of Iran’s IRGC Commander Qassem Soleimani, but he also refused to approve punishment of Iran 4 1/2 years ago after it brought down an American spy plane. At the time, Trump claimed too many Iranians could be killed and he did not want an escalation.

This is exactly what is guiding President Biden today. He is going out of his way not to go out of his way. The report on his involvement in stopping an Israeli preemptive strike on Hezbollah during the first hours of the war is a clear expression of his policy. He can also derive satisfaction, at least for now in stopping Houthi attacks on shipping lanes in the southern Red Sea. We should add that there have been surprisingly limited reprisals against the pro-Iran militias in Iraq and Syria, which are repeatedly attacking U.S. forces.

What Will Justify Entanglement?

Washington understood from the beginning that war brings potential conflagration, but that it is unnecessary in a limited theater conflict. The attempt to prevent a conflagration such as this is not only an expression of America’s strategic weakness, which it has tended to assume more than once, but it is also the recognition by an experienced president that Americans are absolutely fed up with being entangled in foreign wars, whatever the political or military justification might be.

Biden has carried a heavy load for more than 20 years. In the fall of 2002, he voted in the Senate to authorize President George W. Bush to invade Iraq based on the big lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Even Hillary Clinton voted in favor of invasion. Both of them regretted the decision, but that decision adds to their obligation to the voter, both on the left and the right.

That mistake was the main reason why Biden was fervent about leaving Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, although the result was not at all clear. The president even explained at the time that “chaos was inevitable.” That chaos stained Biden’s record and will be hard to erase.

We don’t know what Biden’s red lines are, what will justify the risk of a dangerous entanglement. Do the Redwan Forces, God forbid, have to invade the Galilee?* Do Houthi missiles have to start sinking commercial vessels? Do Iranian drones have to terrorize Israeli ships or partially owned Israeli ships in the Arabian Sea?

It is best that the Israeli working assumption be unequivocal and it appears to be so. Biden expects Israel to act as long as necessary in order to prevent American entanglement. This is a mission that Israel, of course, would be happy to relinquish.

*Editor’s note: By Redwan Forces, the author is referring to a special operation force unit of Hezbollah.

About this publication

About Charles Railey 61 Articles
I recently retired from the federal government, having worked for many years on Middle East issues and regional media. My fascination with the region has never changed and this is one reason why the work of Watching America caught my eye. I live in the DC area with my wife, two grown children, and three cats.

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