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Rich Lowry: Biden misplays politics of Gaza
Rich Lowry
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review. - photo by File photo

Rich Lowry

Syndicated columnist

It’s bad enough that President Joe Biden is playing politics with the war in Gaza, but even worse at least for his purposes -- that he is doing it so poorly.

Biden may imagine that he is maneuvering with incredible skill — subtly balancing geopolitics, alliance management and domestic imperatives — when he is really upsetting all sides in the course of further undermining his already-rickety presidency.

This is less Otto von Bismarck than Jimmy Carter minus the Camp David Accords.

A couple of centuries after Machiavelli warned against the allure of a fence-straddling neutrality and counseled instead being “either a true friend or downright enemy,” Joe Biden is sort of, but not completely with Israel and certainly not with Hamas, but not in favor of the terror group getting destroyed with all due dispatch, either.

The way Bill Clinton once put it in the aftermath of Sept. 11 is that “when people are insecure, they’d rather have somebody who is strong and wrong than someone who’s weak and right.”

Biden is weak and wrong, and he’s not doing himself any favors.

First of all, he should want the war to end as quickly as possible. As long as it continues, he’ll be caught in a crossfire on his own side between the pro-Hamas left and pro-Israel moderates. The easiest way to reduce the intensity around the issue would be for the war to end, but the administration’s jawboning of Israel has stayed the hand of the Jewish state and prolonged this phase of the conflict.

Also, when presented with a choice between placating a fraction of public sentiment or siding with the majority, it’s usually the smart play to go with the majority. Yet, Biden — desperate to stop his bleeding among young voters who are more pro-Palestinian than the rest of the electorate — can’t resist the pull of the fraction.

It’s true that young people look at the conflict differently. According to a New York Times survey of the swing states, voters ages 18-29 sympathize with the Palestinians over the Israelis, 44-to-23, while every other age group is with the Israelis, by increasingly lopsided numbers as they get older.

There’s little doubt what the majority thinks, though. The latest Harvard-Harris poll found that people support Israel over Hamas by 80-to-20, and believe that Israel is trying to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza, 67-to-33. Even voters ages 18-24 support Israel in this survey, 57-to-43, and believe Israel is trying to minimize casualties, 64-to-36.

For all the turmoil over Gaza, it’s not a top voting issue. Just 2% of voters say that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be the most important issue in deciding their vote in The New York Times poll, and 4% of voters ages 18-29.

What Biden most needs is for people to think that he’s a moderate and a steady hand. The White House may tell itself that it’s achieving that with a carefully managed, in-between position. But to nearly everyone else it looks like the president has gotten pushed by the left into flirting from being stalwartly pro-Israel to impeding its war effort.

In other words, in fishing for voters who are small in number and outside the mainstream, Biden has further discredited himself and his leadership with his equivocation.

Perhaps the most astonishing finding in the Times poll is that by 50% to 35%, more voters trust Trump than Biden to handle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Trump leads on this question by a little bit more among voters ages 18-29, 52-to-28.

Trump, who managed to frighten our enemies with his hit against Qasem Soleimani, while also forging a breakthrough peace deal with the Abraham Accords, does indeed look like a giant of statesmanship compared with a Joe Biden whose war policy has been written on water.

Biden has shown that it’s impossible to be all things to all people, but it is possible to convince most of them that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.

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