How Joe Biden Lost His Way in Gaza

During the Darfur genocide and humanitarian crisis two decades ago, then-Senator Joe Biden passionately denounced then-President George W. Bush for failing to act decisively to ease suffering. Biden expressed outrage at China for selling weapons used to kill and maim civilians, and he urged me to write columns demanding the White House end needless wretchedness.

Darfur and Gaza are very different, of course, but I recall the senator’s compassion and urgency — and I wonder, where has that Joe Biden gone?

Gaza has become the albatross around Biden’s neck. It is his war, not just Benjamin Netanyahu’s. It will be part of his legacy, an element of his obituary, a blot on his campaign — and it could get worse if Gaza cascades into a full-blown famine or violent anarchy, or if a wider war breaks out involving Iran or Lebanon. An apparent Israeli strike on a military base in central Iran early Friday underscored the danger of a bigger and more damaging conflict that could draw in the United States.

Consider just one example of America’s fingerprints on this war under Biden’s leadership. In January, the Israeli military dropped a bomb on a compound in Gaza used by the International Rescue Committee, a much-respected American aid organization that is supported in part by American tax dollars. The International Rescue Committee says that the near-fatal strike was caused by a 1,000-pound American-made bomb, dropped from an American-made F-16 fighter jet. And when an American-made aircraft drops an American-made bomb on an American aid group in an American-supported war, how can that not come back to Biden?

“Biden owns that,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, a former Biden and Obama administration official who now runs Refugees International, another aid group. “They’ve provided the matériel that sustains the war. They provided political support that sustains the war. They provided the diplomatic cover at the U.N. that sustains the war.”

This is not Biden’s war in the way that Vietnam was Lyndon Johnson’s war or that Iraq was Bush’s war. Biden has not sent American troops, and he has not directed this war. He is clearly uncomfortable with the civilian toll of this war and wishes Israel was conducting it with more restraint — yet he continues to underwrite it. His rhetoric has become more critical, but his actions so far have not changed significantly.

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