A Deepening Crisis in Gaza
President Joe Biden’s trip to Israel and other Middle Eastern countries shows how seriously his administration is taking the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. The war has broad consequences for Israel, Palestinians, and the broader Middle East. But it also highlights the risk of strategic overreach for the United States at a time when it also faces challenges in Europe and East Asia.
The full impact of Hamas’ attack on Israel, which began on Oct. 7, will take weeks, months, or even years to play out. The immediate effect on Israel and the global Jewish community, meanwhile, has been dramatic. More civilian Jews died on Oct. 7 than on any day since the end of World War II. And, indeed, the savagery of the attacks on Jews that day recalls the horrors of the Nazi execution units on the Eastern Front in 1941-42. Among Hamas’ victims are dozens of captured Americans — some killed and some still held hostage.
It is critical to distinguish between Palestinians and Hamas. It is also important to recognize Hamas for what it is: a terrorist organization with an anti-Semitic bloodlust.
Israel has responded by launching air and artillery attacks on Gaza and by blockading the 2 million-plus Palestinians crowded into the coastal strip. Palestinian civilian casualties — which include hundreds of children — are already high, and rising. The region and world are braced for Israel’s land invasion of Gaza, which aims to destroy Hamas root and branch. Many are worried about a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza should Israel go through with its plans. The fact that Hamas holds hundreds of hostages, U.S. citizens among them, further complicates a situation that is already tense and dangerous.
Complications for Biden in Israel and Ukraine — And at Home
There is also fear of war spreading throughout the region. Hamas is allied with Iran (itself a state sponsor of terrorism) and the terrorist group Hezbollah. Based in Lebanon, Hezbollah has already launched rockets into Israel. But general war has so far been avoided. The Biden administration — which has been courting Iran to bring Tehran back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal — finds itself in a difficult position. The push for full normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel, begun under President Donald J. Trump and continued under Biden, appears dead in the water for now. And the prospects of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, already on its sick bed, is now showing no signs of life.
The Biden administration has been full-throated in its support of Israel. It has moved two aircraft carriers closer to Israel as a sign of support. It has counseled Israeli restraint as the ground assault develops. It is already coordinating humanitarian relief for civilians in Gaza. The director of the Baker Institute, Ambassador David M. Satterfield, has been appointed by Biden to oversee this relief effort.
The crisis over Hamas’ terrorist attacks on Israel occurs against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine. Here, the much-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive is currently bogged down: Weather will soon hamper offensive operations, and we could be facing a long and bloody nightmare. Because of the ongoing battle for speakership of the U.S. House of Representatives, aid to Ukraine is in limbo. While we are unlikely to cut off aid to Ukraine permanently, support for Kyiv is dwindling, both in Congress and among the American public. If the war lingers on, we can expect our staunchly pro-Ukrainian position to further erode. This is particularly true should Trump win the presidential election in November 2024. He is a long-time admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and unpredictable at the best of times, he might well abandon Ukraine to Moscow.
Rising Tensions in East Asia
Meanwhile, ongoing hostilities between China and Taiwan have not broken into outright war, as has happened with Ukraine and Israel. But U.S.-China tensions continue to fester. Relations between the countries may have improved from their low point early this year, but they are still profoundly troubled.
Biden has largely continued Trump’s anti-China policies, especially in the economic realm: he has not only kept Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods but, through the CHIPS and Science Act, has attempted to undermine Chinese competitiveness in the high-tech arena. The U.S. is still maintaining high-level contacts with China, but binational relations are cool at best. A new Cold War may be upon us — one that puts the United States in conflict with an opponent in many ways stronger than the Soviet Union. In this landscape, Taiwan remains a persistent flash point.
A Global Power Stretched Thin
The current global situation reveals the inherent risk of being a world power. The U.S. is indirectly involved in major armed conflicts in two regions, the Middle East and Europe. In a third region, East Asia, an armed conflict with China remains a clear possibility.
The United States has not directly intervened militarily in either of the first two instances. We can only imagine the stresses that would be placed on the U.S. military, and the country itself, if it were forced to fight two major wars at once. Throw in a third major war, and we could be facing disaster. With this in mind, it is time to substantially reduce our commitments — or dramatically increase the resources, both financial and military, that we commit to defending our far-flung interests.
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