This past weekend saw the publication of a disturbing report from Axios, following a phone call between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Israeli counterpart.
According to unnamed sources, the outlet reports, there are growing fears within the Biden administration that the Israeli government wants to provoke Hezbollah into starting a wider regional war that would envelop Lebanon and other nearby countries, as well as the United States.
It’s a powerful reminder that the Biden administration’s current policy of unconditional support for the Israeli government’s war on Gaza carries with it no upsides and only downsides in regards to U.S. interests.
Avoiding another Middle Eastern war is a core priority for President Joe Biden, who both campaigned on ending “forever wars,” and has expressed concern about the U.S. capacity for a future military confrontation with China.
In fact, according to Axios, Austin’s weekend phone call was precisely to register his concern over the Israeli attacks in Lebanon and “the need to contain the conflict to Gaza and avoid regional escalation.” U.S.officials have been reportedly trying to prevent this outcome from the start of the conflict.
Short of a full-blown war, Washington’s support for the war is already leading to U.S. casualties. As of Monday, U.S. and coalition forces have suffered at least 52 attacks since October 17, injuring 56 troops in Iraq and Syria. In a classic case of tit-for-tat, four of those attacks took place this past Sunday alone in response to U.S. airstrikes on Iran-linked facilities, which were themselves a response to earlier militia attacks on American targets in the region over Washington’s backing for Israel.
At one point, a drone launched by an Iran-backed drone crashed into the U.S.barracks at an Iraqi air base, failing to kill U.S.troops only because it was defective.
There are few greater interests of a nation than ensuring the safety and security of its citizens. The Biden administration certainly thinks so, since it has repeatedly invoked the U.S. citizens taken as hostages by Hamas and made clear the importance it places on their safe return. Yet U.S. citizens remain trapped in Gaza, their lives threatened by not just Israel’s relentless bombing campaign, but by the siege that has created a devastating humanitarian crisis in the territory.
The longer the war goes on, the bigger the risk to these Americans’ lives.
At the same time, administration officials are already warning the war is going to inflame terrorism, the very thing the United States spent the past two decades, thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars trying to combat. The U.S. State Department issued an alert early on in the war that there was an increased “potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests.” A leaked intelligence bulletin around the same time warned that Hezbollah and Al Qaeda affiliates were calling for attacks on U.S. citizens and interests over the conflict, and that the October 17 blast at al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City — responsibility for which is still undetermined — would “likely continue to draw public backlash and organized responses.” (The Israeli military has since repeatedly attacked multiple hospitals in Gaza).
Similar warnings abound. The Department of Homeland Security has cautioned that the United States is “in a heightened threat environment” as a result of the war. FBI Director Chris Wray told Congress that “multiple foreign terrorist organizations have called for attacks against Americans and the West,” and that “the ongoing war in the Middle East has raised the threat of an attack against Americans in the United States to a whole ‘nother level.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Charles Q. Brown has said the unprecedented rate of civilian slaughter will likely create more militants, stressing that “ the faster you can get to a point where you stop the hostilities, you have less strife for the civilian population that turns into someone who now wants to be the next member of Hamas.”
Meanwhile, the war is doing profound reputational damage to the United States, according to both officials from the region and inside the administration itself. A diplomatic cable obtained by CNN stated that U.S. diplomats in Arab countries had warned the White House National Security Council, CIA, and FBI that Biden’s support for the war “is losing us Arab publics for a generation.”
This almost exactly echoes what unhappy State Department officials told HuffPost they were hearing from their Arab government counterparts.
A dissent memo organized by State staffers reportedly warns that U.S. failure to publicly criticize Israeli violations “contributes to regional public perceptions that the United States is a biased and dishonest actor, which at best does not advance, and at worst harms, U.S. interests worldwide.”
Indeed, the Washington Post recently reported, based on the words of analysts and Arab officials, that U.S support for Israel’s actions “risks lasting damage to Washington’s standing in the region and beyond” and has been a “constant source of friction” as Secretary of State Tony Blinken has toured the Middle East. Arab leaders have repeatedly, publicly criticized the United States.
“Arab and Global South officials are bewildered by Biden’s indifference to how his blocking of a ceasefire is plummeting America’s standing globally,” says Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. “Arab officials have told me that Biden has done more damage to America’s standing in the region than George W Bush did with his illegal invasion of Iraq.”
“All the work we have done with the Global South [over Ukraine] has been lost,” one senior G7 diplomat told the Financial Times early on in the war. “Forget about rules, forget about world order. They won’t ever listen to us again.”
Steadfast U.S. support for Israel has been typically justified on the basis that, for all the criticism leveled at the United States over it, it holds more benefits than drawbacks for U.S. interests. But it is impossible to make that argument for the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s current war, which is doing profound reputational damage to the United States and risks the deaths of untold numbers of Americans.
Branko Marcetic is a staff writer with Jacobin magazine and the author of Yesterday’s Man: the Case Against Joe Biden. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Guardian, In These Times, and others. – Bio from Responsible Statecraft
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of any entities he represents.