From the moment he secured the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, Joe Biden made it clear that he was committed to defending democracy, at home and abroad, no matter the risks.
Now, in the final year of his first term in office, the very real risk facing President Biden is what happens if the U.S. is unable to keep the commitments he made to two allies — Israel and Ukraine — embroiled in wars of their own, which continue with no end in sight.
In both conflicts, Biden has attempted to explain to the country, and to the world, that America’s commitment was more than just financial and military support, but also that the full diplomatic and political weight of the United States was behind them. Biden’s political will appears to be waning, as the U.S. decided not to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a pause in the fighting in Gaza, even though the resolution failed to condemn Hamas for starting this war.
However, Biden has done himself no favors in mitigating these risks. On Ukraine, he has often spoken forcefully yet acted hesitantly, such as wavering on approving the transfer of much-needed advanced weapons, such as F-16s and long-range missiles, just to approve them months later, wasting valuable time.
On Israel, Biden has vacillated just as much. Initially, he wholeheartedly voiced his support for Israel’s right to defend itself and respond to Hamas’s attack, only to shift his tone and begin pressuring Israel for more and more concessions to Hamas-controlled Gaza.
To be clear, if Biden cannot keep those commitments, there are not just material risks to our allies. He would face steep political risks as well. His perceived weakness would allow his likely 2024 opponent, former President Donald Trump to say: Democrats are weak, elect me, and I can end both conflicts in one day.
It is no coincidence that the tipping point for Biden in terms of Americans’ approval of his job performance came in the summer of 2021 with the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, which, despite being militarily and politically necessary, was carried out in such a way that it reinforced perceptions of America’s declining strength and a willingness to abandon our allies.
Prior to the Afghanistan withdrawal, Biden’s approval ratings were consistently at, or above, 50 percent, but in the more than two years since, Biden has not broken above the low 40s, with the president’s approval rating currently sitting at a dismal 37 percent, according to Gallup tracking polls.
Of course, there are many causes for Biden’s declining approval numbers. Inflation has plagued virtually his entire presidency, there is lingering pessimism over the state of the economy and the southern border continues to be a crisis.
Yet, it would be a mistake to ignore the impact of an increasingly alarming geopolitical environment on Biden’s domestic standing.
Indeed, despite Biden’s belief that the United States must play an active role in the defense of “small L” liberal values everywhere they are threatened, the results of Biden’s policies have been mixed at best, and opposition has continued to grow, further imperiling Biden’s position.
Put another way, amid growing domestic discontent over national security, the economy, immigration and other issues, as well as the political risks to Biden’s presidency, it is an open question whether or not Biden will be able to keep the commitments he made to our allies.
This is no longer a hypothetical question. More than $100 billion in wartime assistance to Ukraine and Israel remains stalled in the House, with Republicans opposed to further spending for Ukraine as that war enters its third year. There are also mounting frustrations over our own fiscal situation.
Whether Biden has the political capital to push those aid packages through remains to be seen, especially with well-established public opposition on the right to funding Ukraine and the increasingly vocal demands from the left to suspend aid to Israel as it battles Hamas.
In that same vein, while Americans have tended to be more supportive of Israel than Ukraine due to the historical ties between Israel and the U.S., there is a very good chance that the longer Israel’s campaign against Hamas continues the public’s support for both wars will erode.
Ironically, the only thing uniting the right wing of the GOP and the left wing of the Democratic Party is stiff opposition to Biden’s commitments to help Ukraine and Israel fight two wars that neither country wanted but was forced into.
Moreover, it is precisely the “bipartisan” opposition to Biden’s proposed assistance to Ukraine and Israel that threatens to undermine the administration at the worst possible time: Just ahead of the 2024 elections.
In less than one year, Biden will likely face Donald Trump, who has, with some success, curated the idea that the world was a safer place with him in the Oval Office, an argument Americans still find convincing given the state of the world today.
To that end, 53 percent of registered voters say they trust Trump to do a better job on national security, compared to just 41 percent who say they trust Biden more, according to New York Times/Siena polling.
That said, most dangerous for Biden is the growing divisions within his own party, between the progressive left and more moderate Democrats over support for Israel. This lack of support for Israel is particularly acute among young people and in some African-American progressive organizations. One progressive lawmaker, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) has promoted language regularly used by Hamas.
And, while that lawmaker faced appropriate scrutiny from moderate Democrats, including the 22 who voted to censure her, it is concerning for the future of the entire Democratic Party that some in its most vocal wing have not unequivocally condemned Hamas, which is listed by the State Department as a designated foreign terrorist organization.
Ultimately, the world as Biden sees it is one caught in a battle between the forces of democracy and those of revisionist autocrats, determined to tear down the U.S.-led liberal world order. Biden’s political legacy has become inextricably linked to America’s role as the arsenal of democracy.
However, a prolonged inability to pass any funding packages through Congress runs the considerable risk of playing right into Republican attacks that Biden is a weak, ineffective president, who must be replaced by the considerably more vigorous Trump. It could very well shatter Biden’s hopes of reelection.
If Biden hopes to avoid the fate of Jimmy Carter, whose blowout defeat in 1980 was due in large part to economic and geopolitical challenges similar to those facing Biden, he must find a way to ensure that the United States stands by the commitments we’ve made to our allies, and to the world.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an adviser to President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg. His new book is “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.” Saul Mangel is a senior strategist at Schoen Cooperman Research.
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Author: Douglas E. Schoen and Saul Mangel, opinion contributors