Why Biden can't and won't support a winning strategy for Ukraine and Israel

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“Bad news isn’t wine,” Colin Powell once said. “It doesn’t improve with age.”

Neither do indecision and inaction in war. At some point, you have to deal with the situation. And for the Biden administration, that time is now.

April proved to be another difficult month for President Biden and his national security team. In a strategic game of chess, Russia, Iran, China, and North Korea continued positioning themselves to put the U.S. in strategic check. What’s more, they are increasingly aided and abetted by the extreme political left in the U.S., who are enabling the situation. 

Once again, Russia and Iran are proving to be experts in the field of distraction. Democracy is under assault here and abroad, and the Biden Administration remains stuck in reactive mode, especially as November calculus grips and paralyzes the White House.

The American media simply moved on from Ukraine after Biden signed the funding bill providing it $61 billion in military assistance. Their nearly exclusive focus now is on the situation in Gaza and the pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protests on college campuses across the nation. If you only watched mainstream media broadcasts in the U.S. , you would hardly know that there is still an existential war going on in Ukraine.

Ukrainian military commander Oleksandr Syrskyi reports that Russian forces in Ukraine are advancing in Avdiivka, Pokrovsk and Chasiv Yar. Moscow is massing for a possible offensive operation against Kharkiv. 

The Russian missile strike on Monday in Odesa was not just another attack on a Ukrainian civilian population center. Once again, they targeted residential buildings and civilian infrastructure, but reports and a video of the attack suggest they used cluster munitions, which would be a new low for the Kremlin and certainly a war crime.

According to Human Rights Watch, “the use of cluster munitions in areas with civilians makes an attack indiscriminate in violation of international humanitarian law, and possibly a war crime.”

But where is the condemnation? Crickets from Washington, Brussels and The Hague. Why? Because they are paralyzed with fear that confronting Russia will lead to escalation.

The attack killed four and wounded 29. It also did significant damage to the cultural icon house of Serhiy Kivalov, known in Odesa as Kivalov’s Castle (affectionately known by many others as the “Harry Potter Castle”). 

In the Mideast, Iran has directed its proxies to resume attacks on American forces. U.S. Central Command continues to play defense, interdicting unmanned aerial vehicles and anti-ship ballistic missiles that threaten U.S. Navy ships and commercial shipping in the Red Sea, along with occasional retaliation against launch sites firing missiles at U.S. bases in Syria. Meanwhile, the Iranian-sponsored attacks continue, because Tehran has no fear of U.S. retaliation.

Nor are the attacks only against U.S. military forces. The very pier and causeway under construction in the Mediterranean sea — a $320 million project designed to bring much-needed humanitarian aid to Gaza — came under mortar attack last week by Palestinian militants, and Hamas, without taking credit for the attack, made clear that it will “resist” the project as long as the U.S. military is involved.

Unfortunately, Biden has no answer to any of this, outside of November politics. Once again, he is struggling to keep his head above water, both in his current job and in his campaign to keep it for another four years.

Tough talk and deterrence have failed repeatedly with Russia and Iran. And winning outright in Ukraine is not a November option. This may be why Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is once again suggesting negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin as the White House’s preferred outcome.

Blinken said recently that he believed that the end of the war “depends mostly on Vladimir Putin and what he decides.” He went on to say that he hoped Putin would “demonstrate a willingness to genuinely negotiate, consistent with the basic principles that are at the heart of the international community and the UN Charter: sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence.”

Tellingly, he added, “the minute that Russia demonstrates that it’s genuinely willing to negotiate, we’ll certainly be there, and I believe the Ukrainians will be there.”

This despicable approach seems to fall in line with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s “sanitary zone” comments. It basically cedes terrain already captured “to protect Russian border regions from Ukrainian attacks” in exchange for Ukraine’s continued sovereignty and eventual inclusion into the NATO Alliance.  To that extent, the White House’s $61 billion investment is intended to further weaken Russia and bring it to the negotiation table. 

Only one problem: The White House still does not understand Putin’s end-state nor Ukraine’s determination to drive Russia completely out of its territory. What Blinken describes is a best-case solution only for the White House, not for Ukraine or Europe.

Nor does Biden understand Israel’s end-state either. On Sunday, White House national security communications adviser John Kirby said that the U.S. remains hopeful for “six weeks of peace” with a hostage deal that “Hamas has not fully rejected.” But even if Hamas accepts a ceasefire and returns all of the hostages, what happens after six weeks? Another ceasefire? Hamas, with its Iranian backing, is still an existential threat to Israel. 

Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday. They discussed Israel’s impending incursion into Rafah and Biden “reiterated his clear position.” Netanyahu’s position is equally clear: He will do whatever he has to in order to eradicate Hamas. He will not address a solution for Palestine until the threat against his country is eliminated. Biden’s “clear position” is unacceptable to Israel because it does not remove the threat or address Iran.

Biden is confronted with protests on college campuses across the country, which might be putting his presidency on the line. For Netanyahu, the fate and security of his country are on the line. He is not at all worried about Biden’s re-election.

Negotiations and ceasefires do not usually resolve conflicts. They merely prolong the inevitable. The Korean War Armistice signed in July 1953 may have resulted in a ceasefire going on 71 years now, but it has not reduced tensions on the peninsula or in the region. 

Furthermore, during that 71-year time span, North Korea amassed a stockpile of an estimated 30 nuclear weapons. Netanyahu has said repeatedly that Iran has never given up efforts to obtain nuclear weapons and that Israel will not allow Tehran to build them.

Sometimes, you need a geostrategic winner, not just a November winner. World War II proved that. Biden should be supporting winning strategies in Ukraine and Israel, not just in Michigan.

Col. (Ret.) Jonathan Sweet served 30 years as a military intelligence officer. Mark Toth writes on national security and foreign policy.

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