Of All People

How Joe Biden Unexpectedly Channeled Winston Churchill

Ten years and a month ago Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian groups and individuals breached the fence around the Gaza Strip and murdered, mutilated, raped and burned to death more than a thousand civilians, mainly but not only Israelis, mainly but not only Jews.

A month later, on November 7, 2023, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s air defense systems were neutralized and most of its long-range missiles destroyed in a joint US/Israeli strike. American and Israeli bombers and fighter-bombers commenced eradicating the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons project. B-52s and B-2s dropped Massive Ordnance Penetrators at sites in Natanz, Fordow, Arak, Esfahan, Parchin and Bushehr. F-35s, F-16s and F-15s of the Israeli air force dropped smaller bombs into the openings created by the MOPs.

These strikes came a week after missiles hit the USS Laboon and three days after the US Senate and House passed the Laboon Resolution authorizing then-President Joe Biden to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and prevent further aggression.

The USS Laboon was a guided missile destroyer attached to the USS Dwight Eisenhower carrier group deployed to the eastern Mediterranean together with the USS Gerald Ford carrier group. Satellite imagery showed a volley of missiles falling on the Laboon, disabling it. Thirty-two crew members including three women were killed.

Within minutes of the news on CNN the late Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of Hizballah, the Lebanese Shia Islamist political party and militant group like Hamas funded, armed and controlled by the Islamic Republic and known to possess both guided and unguided missiles, denied any involvement, blaming Israel. The late Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, echoed Nasrallah and warned America and Israel not to do anything rash. The Islamic Republic was known to be a supplier of missiles to Hizballah.

The Laboon Resolution passed the Senate by 97-3. Only the late Bernie Sanders (I.-Vermont), Ed Markey (D.-Mass.) and Rand Paul (R.-Kentucky) voted against it. Sanders was reminded of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 1965 following an alleged attack by North Vietnam on the USS Maddox, which Lyndon Johnson used to escalate the war in Vietnam.

In the House of Representatives the vote was 427-8. All the so-called Squad voted against.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D.-Michigan), a Squad member, likened the Laboon to the USS Liberty, a spy ship attacked by the Israeli air force and navy during the Six Day or June War of 1967. Thirty-four crew members were killed. Both the Israeli and U.S. governments conducted inquiries and issued reports concluding the attack was a mistake due to Israeli confusion about the ship’s identity. But others, including survivors of the attack, rejected these conclusions and maintained it was deliberate.

Photos of an unexploded missile retrieved from the Laboon revealed Farsi markings, and time-stamped satellite images showed the volley originating in Lebanon. Tlaib and the rest of the Squad branded the photos and images artificial intelligence-generated fakes.

After the Laboon Resolution passed it was expected Biden would order warplanes on the Gerald Ford and Dwight Eisenhower to attack Hizballah. Instead he launched Operation Uncle Sam.

The surprise of Uncle Sam and Mivzat Esther (Operation Esther) was near-total despite the fact that the U.S. and Israeli air forces had held joint, large-scale, well-publicized exercises in the Mediterranean in 2022 and in Nevada in 2023 simulating wiping out the Islamic Republic’s uranium enrichment, warhead development and ballistic missile research and production sites.

Biden was an unlikely wartime commander-in-chief, far less a man to be expected to order such actions and rally his nation to defend itself and civilization.

Winston Churchill, by way of comparison, graduated from the Royal Military College at Sandhurst before seeing combat in India, the Sudan and South Africa, and, in World War One, after conceiving the disastrous Gallipoli landings as First Lord of the Admiralty, resigning and serving in the trenches on the Western front. He was also a legendary orator.

Biden received five student deferments from the draft during the Vietnam War, plus a medical exemption——not for bone spurs but childhood asthma. Until the fall of 2023 he was never known for giving remarkable speeches.

His policies and decisions before October 2023 gave little hint that he was capable of Uncle Sam.

Explaining why he had ordered the U.S. military and U.S. civilian advisors to quit Afghanistan in 2021, he had said he was putting an end to “forever wars.” The chaotic evacuation of Kabul included scenes viewed worldwide of Afghanis desperately trying to escape the victorious Taliban. It had heightened the perception that the U.S. wasn’t to be trusted by its allies or feared by its enemies.

Many also considered his policies and decisions regarding the Islamic Republic weak. He was depicted as senile at best, at worst a puppet manipulated by veterans of the Barack Obama administration in his inner circle, if not by Obama himself. This was said to be particularly true of his efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) whereby the Islamic Republic pledged it would temporarily freeze some of its nuclear weapons development in return for hundreds of billions in cash and a relaxation of sanctions.

On the other hand, when the late Vladimir Putin attempted to swallow Ukraine, Biden, after some hesitation, sent arms and money, going so far as to visit Kiyev in 2023 and being photographed with Volodymyr Zelensky as he would visit Tel Aviv in October and be photographed with his old friend, the late Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu.

And on October 15 he said on CBS, “We’re the United States of America for God’s sake, the most powerful nation in the history——not in the world, in the history of the world. We can take care of both [supporting Ukraine and Israel] and still maintain our overall international defence. And if we don’t, who does?”

He had never gone so far as to characterize the Islamic Republic, Russia, China and North Korea as an Axis of Evil. Nor had he invoked Pax Americana——not in so many words.

Two carrier groups were sent off the coast of Israel and Lebanon, but until after the Laboon Resolution the U.S. military had not fired a shot except the USS Carney, a destroyer in the Red Sea which shot down several missiles launched by the Houthi militia in Yemen, another Islamic Republic proxy, and heading in the direction of Israel. American involvement before Uncle Sam was concentrated on rearming and reassuring and restraining Israel and keeping the war from spreading.

Fatefully, the Laboon incident came at a juncture when Iran, Hizballah and Hamas held the advantage. It was clear what the game was——release a few hostages unharmed except for shock, especially the American and EU citizens, have them give press conferences saying they had been treated well, then a few more, drawing things out in hopes Biden would relent and the Israelis be paralyzed.

Having delayed as he and a parade of Western presidents and prime ministers visiting Tel Aviv had urged Netanyahu and his war cabinet to do, the Israel Defence Forces had finally entered Gaza, and Israel as expected had begun losing the international war for public opinion. While the White House, 10 Downing Street, the Eiffel Tower, the Brandenburg Gate, the Verkhovna Rada in Kiyev, the Arch of Titus and the Sydney opera house remained illuminated in the blue and white colours of the Israeli flag, the clips of dead and wounded Palestinian women, children and old people flooding both mainstream and social media eclipsed what had taken place a month before.

Parts of London, Paris, Berlin, Rome and Sydney had become liberated zones where pro-Palestinian committees held sway. Meanwhile, Obama wrote on X where he had more than 100 million followers that Israel should withdraw. Not only the Squad but the New York Times and Washington Post agreed.

When the attack on the Laboon took place it was heaven-sent——what the ancient Greeks would’ve called a deus ex machina.

The pictures of the Laboon burning, the arrival of the bodies at Andrews, the coffins draped in the Stars and Stripes, the funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, especially of the women, one of which Biden attended, reset the conversation, at least in the U.S.

In an Oval Office address on the evening of November 7 he said Uncle Sam was not only for the sake of the United States and not only for the sake of Israel but for the sake of humanity.

“There are times when all good women and men and nations have to stand up for decency,” he said. “This is one. We are stopping the most evil regime in the world from making the worst weapon in the world. God bless our brave women and men in uniform and God bless America.”

In his autobiography, “My Turn,” published after he served to the end of his second term, Biden, due to celebrate his 91st birthday in two weeks, maintained the speech he read off a teleprompter was written by himself and not for him.

In the decade since much has emerged. Why had the Israelis been so catastrophically unprepared? Who in Teheran or Beirut ordered the Laboon to be attacked? How close did the world come to World War Three? The answers were complacency, stupidity, negligence, distraction, disunity and what the ancient Greeks would’ve called hubris; the Supreme Leader; and very close indeed.

Questions remain, including three what-ifs.

Where would the world be now if, hostages or no hostages, the war cabinet hadn’t finally disregarded Israel’s friends and sent the IDF into Gaza; if the Supreme Leader hadn’t given the order; and if the U.S. president hadn’t chanced Doomsday.

Counterfactual questions not hard to answer.

For Hamas to have done what it had, and survive, would’ve meant the end of the resurrected Jewish state. By now the Islamic Republic would possess many nuclear weapons deliverable by ICBMs wherever it pleased, and an axis of it, Russia, China and North Korea together with proxies and freelance groups on six continents would be having their way in a new dark age. Western civilization, and civilization in general, on the defensive before October 7, 2023, would have become a memory.

It was a close thing.

About the Author
Edward Grossman has reported for TOI, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Commentary, Les Temps Modernes (Paris) and so forth.
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