In a rare Oval Office address, President Biden described the United States as “the indispensable nation,” standing by allies in the Middle East and in Europe now under attack by Islamic terrorism and a Russian tyrant respectively. In this way, he linked the 20-month long Ukraine war with the new one in Israel.
Emphasizing the global nature of the conflict, Biden said America, and by extension the world, now faces “an inflection point.” Hamas and Russian President Vladimar Putin, he continued, are “different threats” but share a common goal: “They both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy.”
U.S. troops are not required on either front, according to the president. Instead, during an address that lasted just 15 minutes, Biden insisted from behind the Resolute Desk that only American munitions were needed, urging his countrymen to support Israel and Ukraine by continuing to reprise the role as “the arsenal of democracy.”
The White House will forward to Congress a request for as much as $100 billion in wartime aid, linking military assistance for Ukraine, that many Republicans are reluctant to approve, with money for munitions that GOP lawmakers are eager to send to Israel. Still without a speaker, or even a party leader, House Republicans may find themselves so at odds with one another that they are unable to register much resistance.
Biden asked – and then offered an answer – why Americans should care about a war in Europe that’s lasted more than 600 days and the one in Israel that Hamas began just last week.
“History has taught us that when terrorists don’t pay a price for their terror, when dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction,” the president said. “They keep going. And the cost and the threats to America and the world keep rising.”
Inflation also keeps rising stateside, and so does the annual federal budget deficit, which is expected to soon surpass $2 trillion, a sum that could foreshadow waning American appetite for war, even cold ones. Biden repeated a favorite platitude earlier this week about the limitless capacity of the United States during a CBS “60 Minutes” interview, and his Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, argued elsewhere that the country “can certainly afford” to bankroll both Ukrainian and Israeli allies.
Biden stressed the global nature of the interconnected conflict, noting how Russia has turned to North Korea to resupply its munitions stores and accusing Iran of supporting both Moscow and the Palestinian terrorists. Without U.S. leadership, he warned, “conflict and chaos could spread in other parts of the world.” America’s enemies, meanwhile, are hoping for diminished American resolve. “We cannot and will not let terrorists like Hamas and tyrants like Putin win,” Biden vowed. “I refuse to let that happen.”
He warned Russia that the U.S. will continue to support its European allies and stands ready to “defend every inch of NATO. He said that at home “too much oxygen” had been given to antisemitism and Islamophobia, urging the nation to “renounce violence and vitriol.” He updated the death toll of American citizens murdered by Hamas to 32 and promised there was “no higher priority” than ensuring the safety of Americans currently held hostage.
With regards to hostage rescue, the administration has indicated that the U.S. is not taking a more active role because the Israeli government does not “want foreign troops on their soil” and would rather “prosecute these operations on their own.” National Security spokesman John Kirby told reporters last Thursday, however, that there were some U.S. hostage recovery experts “already in country” before the Hamas attack.
On Wednesday, the White House shared a picture to Instagram of Biden shaking hands in Israel with members of what appeared to be an Army Delta Force team. The faces of those soldiers were not obscured, and the photo was quickly deleted. The White House would not confirm what unit those soldiers belonged to or expand on their mission when asked by RealClearPolitics.
“As soon as this was brought to our attention, we immediately deleted the photo,” a White House spokesperson told RCP. “We regret the error and any issues this may have caused.”
Regardless of the error, the fact that Biden was even on the ground in Israel was remarkable, a fact he referenced during his remarks when he said that “they tell me I’m the first American president to travel there during a war.” It isn’t the only war zone he has visited, either. Biden recalled how earlier this year he traveled to Ukraine. Again, another milestone. “I’m told I was the first American [president] to enter a war zone not controlled by the United States military,” he said, “since President Lincoln.”
Rather than demonstrating strength, Republicans argue those travels underscore weakness. Had the president achieved more meaningful deterrence, they insist, there wouldn’t have been photo-ops like that, let alone a Russian invasion or even a Hamas terror attack.
Former President Trump accused Biden of demonstrating “a deadly combination of incompetence, radicalism, and weakness.” His campaign added, with a somewhat confused historical metaphor, that Biden “is Neville Chamberlain trying to pose as Winston Churchill.”
Elsewhere on the right, Biden earned high praise. Notably, Fox News chief political analyst Brit Hume called the address from the Oval Office “one of the best, if not the best, speeches of his presidency.”
“American leadership is what holds the world together,” Biden said after urging lawmakers to set aside partisan differences. “American alliances are what keep us, America, safe. American values are what make us a partner that other nations want to work with.”
RCP’s chief White House correspondent, Susan Crabtree, contributed to this report.
Source: realclearpolitics/21 Oct, 2023