Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Should Biden let Hezbollah and the Houthis get a say in Gaza?

The US administration's 'no war whatsoever' policy signals to Iran that America is toothless and that the Islamic Republic can act with impunity
US President Joe Biden speaks as he participates in the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections with former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at CNN's studios in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 27, 2024. (Photo by CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA / AFP)
US President Joe Biden speaks as he participates in the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections with former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at CNN's studios in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 27, 2024. (Photo by CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA / AFP)

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has been clear: The war he launched on Israel, on October 8, has nothing to do with Lebanon and its 13 disputed border points with the Jewish state and everything to do with supporting Hamas in Gaza. He said his war will only stop when a permanent ceasefire is reached, a position that mirrors the blackmail model Iran employs in Yemen, where its Houthi proxies have put one of the world’s most strategic waterways in a chokehold, increasing global shipping costs fivefold, straining supply chains, and raising inflation, which hurts US national interests. So what will Biden do about it?

The Biden administration seemed amenable to the demands of the Iran-backed militias, trying to convince Israel of the merits of a permanent ceasefire, even one that allows Hamas to regroup and retake the Strip. (In Thursday’s presidential debate, Biden maintained that rather than pressing on for Hamas’s destruction in Gaza Israel should “get Hamas like we did Ben Laden,” a hunt that lasted 10 years.) With a ceasefire, Israel could supposedly buy calm on its northern border and persuade the Houthis to stand down.

Biden desperately needs to avoid crises, lagging behind his challenger four months to the US presidential election.

Such thinking is also in line with Biden’s National Security Strategy, which sets “de-escalation” as the goal of his Middle East policy.

But de-escalation is a tool, not a goal. War is one of the many instruments at the disposal of governments. A “no war whatsoever” policy signals to Iran and its militias that America is toothless and that they can act with impunity. It is no wonder that since Biden took office, Iran and its militias have started at least three wars – in Gaza, Lebanon, and off the coast of Yemen. Had Tehran feared America’s reprisal, it would not have emboldened its proxies to test the limits of Washington’s patience.

The Houthi war on global shipping proved Biden’s short-sightedness. He had bet on the reasonableness of the Houthis, removing them from the terrorism list, and pressing Saudi Arabia to stop warring with them.

As many knew – except Team Biden – the Houthis were far from reasonable. The militia started hitting Biden where it hurts, the economy, and Washington had to act. It tried to assemble a global coalition, but its effort showed that America under Biden had less than a dozen friends willing to put skin in the game.

Even the Houthis’ archenemies, the Saudis and the Emiratis, refused to participate in the coalition for protecting Red Sea shipping lanes. Gulf capitals calculated that Biden was inconsistent and might change course midway, leaving them to face Houthi and Iranian wrath when Washington suddenly bails, for whatever reason. America’s Gulf allies sat out a war unfolding in their own backyard.

Gulf governments were right. America has been fighting half a war, allowing a ragtag militia to sink one ship and set another ablaze, six months into the war. Why half a war? Because it turns out that the Biden Administration believes that wiping out the Houthis would lead to mayhem.

If the Houthis are Washington’s bet for regional stability, then no wonder Biden’s Middle East policy has been one big mess, producing three wars and no solutions.

Former US president Barack Obama, one of the most anti-war presidents who went out of his way to appease Iran, would still occasionally say, whenever addressing Iranian nuclear belligerence, that “all options are on the table,” hinting that America would not shy away from using military power against Iran.

When former US president Donald Trump killed Qassem Soleimani, the move suppressed Iran’s appetite for destruction, at least while Trump remained in office: Uranium enrichment stayed at less than five percent while militia harassment of America’s friends and allies stopped.

Biden’s foreign policy philosophy is appeasement, which has been a drag on America’s allies, particularly Israel in dealing with Hezbollah. Washington has so far insisted that it opposes an all-out Israeli war, even though Hezbollah started it and shows no signs of stopping.

If the goal must be “no war,” then there will be few tools left to safeguard US national interests or those of its allies.

Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis see America’s weaknesses and are exploiting them, hoping to set precedents, such as giving Hezbollah and the Houthis a say over whatever Israel does in Gaza, and perhaps soon over whatever Israel does in the West Bank or Syria, and after that whatever America does anywhere. By then, Biden would have managed to end wars, minimizing America’s global influence, and seriously hurting America’s allies.


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About the Author
Hussain Abdul-Hussain is a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), a non-partisan organization focused on national security and foreign policy.
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