Ira Straus

Has Biden Set Up Israel for Defeat?

Stalemate in a war means defeat for the Western side. This is proving to be the case in Israel and Ukraine today.

Western countries have little endurance in a stalemated war. Stalemate sets in motion a media-ideological dynamic against ourselves.

This weakness is not just for structural reasons – that our leaders get changed in elections. It is not just for genuinely moral reasons – that a long war of stalemate and attrition can be incredibly brutal, and its continuation can often serve little purpose. It is not just for structural-ideological reasons – that free societies always include factions and ideologies that are against the society’s own side.

It is also for a concrete, time-specific reason in our history: that an ideologically anti-Western faction within the West has grown to remarkable proportions in recent decades. Half a century ago, the New Left expressed the sensibility profoundly. The sentiment has since grown to near-hegemonic proportions in the major institutions: media, academia, NGOs, the professions, and administrative bodies. This is why, given time, an initial support for a war effort morphs, under the pressure of this predominant instinct, into its opposite.

Similar dynamics often lead to abandoning an achieved victory in war and losing the peace. This was seen, catastrophically, after World War I. We learned and did better after World War II. But we soon went back to aiming de facto at stalemates, sometimes of necessity, but too often on principle. There was a feeling that it is somehow wrong to win: too one-sided, too unfair, too rewarding of a dominant West that might exploit the world; too triumphalist, too validating of our corrupt society, too encouraging of our belligerent people. This in turn fed into the New Left taking that same sensibility to its logical conclusion: against fighting the stalemate-wars at all.

The end of the Cold War could have brought a respite from this. But it was on the same set of principles that President Obama aimed at stalemate in the Syrian civil war, keeping it long and very bloody; and again in the sequel against ISIS — while inviting Russia and Turkey to step in and supposedly help, and while hoping local forces might evolve to win. When asked at a press conference in Turkey why he wasn’t trying to win, he used a pragmatic-sounding way of expressing the principle, saying it’s counterproductive when we are the force that wins. It was again on principle that the West walked away from a victory in Libya the moment Qaddafi was toppled, leaving the country in chaos and the jihadis to spread thence through the Sahel.

In Ukraine, President Biden has imposed another long, costly, bloody stalemate — a “war of attrition” – by making sure the arms shipments were never enough. This has set Ukraine on the path to defeat after a decent interval. The talk is already shifting to defining the negotiating terms for accepting defeat.

It is not just Presidents, to be sure, who have been doing this. It is also, often though not always, the media.

Together, they are well on the way along to doing the same thing to Israel as they’ve done to Ukraine and Syria.


How They Do It


Israel’s defeat has been prepared in three seemingly contradictory stages:

  1. President Biden and the media start out with strong words, “unequivocally condemning” the Hamas terrorist massacre and demanding that everyone else must do likewise. He gives Israel a big “bear hug”, as it has come to be called.
  2. Biden uses the hug to hold Israel in. He imposes weeks of delays on Israeli counteraction, in the name of hoping to get the hostages out first. The Israeli bombing continues, with growing doubts about the purpose.
  3. The media use the time lapse to shift the onus of blame for civilian deaths onto Israel – and away from the entity that is in fact trying to get both Israeli and Gazan civilians killed, namely Hamas. They run argumentative interference, in tandem with their preferred NGOs and Hamas, against Gazans complying with Israeli warnings to relocate to safer locations; then blame Israel for the deaths. They angrily, insistently make demands for further restraint – make the demands on Israel, and on Israel alone.

This amounts to a media reset of the terms of policy-making. Biden complies with the reset.

The “unequivocal condemnations” of Hamas are reduced to pro forma ones. It is only the accusations against Israel that are made actionable — given punch, connected to a will to act.

The anti-self dynamic is in motion. It spells defeat.

Why have Biden, his team, and the media all been doing this, when they say and mostly genuinely believe that they are strongly on the side of Israel and Ukraine? Why do they start out with wildly supportive statements of our allies, but quickly shift their tone and soon end up de facto on the other side? Is there an underlying social prejudice for being against ourselves that kicks in, as a way of sounding sophisticated? Or is it an underlying ideological prejudice, a narrative against ourselves, that always kicks in with time?

And why does Biden so often seem like a puppet of the worst tendencies in our media? Does he need more of the courage of, say, a Reagan — one could also say, honestly if unpopularly, a Nixon and a Trump — to defy the media and ignore their narrative?

We will have to leave this questions for another day. The question we must all face at this time is: Will Biden succeed in defeating Israel? Will he complete the defeat of Ukraine too? And what can we do about it?

First, we must admit what we don’t know. Israel’s position is already badly worsened by Biden and the media, but we cannot know yet if this will prove fatal. What we can know is that we have to face the reality of this two-faced role and find a way to deal with the problems it creates.

We have to deal with the reality of a Western elite that mostly doesn’t like to win its wars. We have to deal with a Western media that habitually frame the issues in ways that throw their operative, actionable accusations and demands at the Western side in a conflict — even when, as in the present war, they start out formally supporting the Western side of the conflict and making severe pro forma statements against its enemy.

Leaders in countries such as Israel don’t have the luxury of Americans of not needing always to win their wars. In the heat of this war, they have to deal with two adversaries at the same time: their explicit enemy, and their frenemy in the Western elite. What can they do in these conditions?

What is to be Done

They can adjust their strategies to deal with this reality. They can develop a strategy for winning, not by using the optimal military strategy alone for winning, but by shrinking the schedule for their military actions, in order to manage the reality of the false moral code of the Western elite.

If they do this, their country just might win. If they fail to do this, it will lose. And humanity will lose with it.

About the Author
Chair, Center for War/Peace Studies; Senior Adviser, Atlantic Council of the U.S.; formerly a Fulbright professor of international relations; studied at Princeton, UVA, Oxford. Institutions named above for identification purposes only; views expressed herein are solely the responsibility of the author.
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