To understand the geopolitics behind the Biden Administration’s support of Israel in its war with Hamas, a good place to start is with a statement earlier this year that had nothing to do with the Middle East. Following a military coup d’etat in his homeland, Kiari Liman Tinguiri, the Ambassador to the United States from the African nation of Niger, commented:
“It’s nice to be friends of the West, but it may not be helpful when the time comes.”
Niger is a small, poor country in West Africa, but it’s president, Mohamed Bazoum, was a strong US ally. Mr. Bazoum had been democratically elected and had allowed the United States to house key military installations in his country. When he was overthrown in July by a small contingent of Nigeri Army personnel, the Biden Administration did not come to his aid.
Over the last two years, countries throughout Central Africa from Guinea on the Atlantic seaboard eastward to Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad have suffered coups. While poor, these countries possess many of the raw materials that would be necessary for the world to transition to a more carbon-free environment. In almost every case the army officers who led the juntas proclaimed loyalty to Vladimir Putin after seizing power. Coming so soon after the embarrassing American withdrawal from Afghanistan, the world was left to wonder if the United States indeed was tough enough when the time came.
The time has now come. Last month America’s most important ally in the Middle East was brutally attacked by a homicidal cult pledged to Israel’s destruction. Soon after the October 7 massacre, Hamas officials announced that this was only the first such attack, and that they will keep murdering Israelis until the nation of Israel is destroyed. The world then waited to see how the Biden Administration would respond.
Under these international circumstances, in the face of continued Iranian pressure and with heavily armed Hezbollah watching from Lebanon, any American equivocation about standing by Israel would have been disastrous. What possible hope would the United States have had of convincing Saudi Arabia to stand up to Iran if the Americans let Israel be overrun?
There was no similar concern about Vladimir Putin and Russia. During the Syrian Civil War Bashar Assad began carpet bombing his own people. Russian President Putin stood by him. Putin didn’t care what the UN said or whether other countries screamed. To Putin, Assad was an ally whom he would stand by no matter what. The countries of the world took notice.
Unlike Assad, Israel has tried to minimize civilian deaths in an environment where the terrorist infrastructure is embedded into the local population. That of course made no difference to the chorus of voices attacking Israel for “indiscriminate bombing” and “excessive civilian deaths”. While many of them participated in this chorus, the leaders of countries such as Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and many African states watched carefully to see if the United States would be intimidated. To his credit, so far President Biden has stood his ground. Even with large elements in his own Democratic party rebelling over Biden’s support of Israel, he has remained firm.
There may be a limit to Biden’s support of Israel, but likely we are a substantial way from it. The Administration hears from its military advisors what a difficult task this is for the Israel Defense Forces – operating in an urban area with an imbedded terrorist infrastructure. They understand how impossible it will be to effectively root out Hamas without civilian casualties. Any shrinking of American support for Israel at this time will only encourage other nefarious actors to place their women and children front and center as Hamas does. Taiwan, especially, is watching very closely. If America wouldn’t back Israel against a terrorist organization, what chance would there be that it will stand by Taiwan should China attack?
To this point, by quickly transferring an aircraft carrier group to the Mediterranean and by strongly backing Israel, the United States has helped contain the war. In the warped logic that guides these things, the willingness to use massive force decreases the chance of ever having to do so. Those who want the United States to abandon Israel, or look for some sort of “humanitarian grounds” to obtain a cease fire with Hamas still standing and holding hostages, only will increase the chances that a larger conflagration will erupt soon after.
Sadly, as the younger generation distances itself from Israel and calls upon the Biden Administration to impose such a ceasefire, the result of that will be to increase the chances that in the next decade that same generation will be called up to fight a war started by a party who does not believe that America has the stomach to fight. It is for the sake of those same young people who so vociferously condemn Israel and the Biden Administration that the President knows he must support Israel. This partially is for Israel’s sake, but mostly it is for America’s own.