The 2024 presidential candidates are not holding back. Across the board they are issuing strident condemnations of Hamas's brutal attacks against Israel and support for Israel's ensuing war in Gaza.
Nearly all are using the events to blame Biden Administration policies in the Middle East.
Only one, Republican Vivek Ramaswamy, has urged restraint on the part of the U.S., pointing to his colleagues' anti-Iran rhetoric as a possible slide into war for Washington and a broader Middle East conflagration.
Republicans overall offered the most bombastic takes, with Trump proclaiming that his Abraham Accords had brought “peace” to the Middle East before Biden came in and blew it all up.
The accords, which sought U.S. normalization with Arab states, were only signed by Morocco, Bahrain, UAE, and Sudan (whose government was overthrown this year and is in the middle of another civil war) before Trump left office. While “peace” is clearly in the eye of the beholder, these agreements were not only upheld, but the Biden White House has praised and sought doggedly to expand them, reportedly offering Saudi Arabia all sorts of concessions to join.
That the accords left the actual peace process – between Israel-Palestine – off the table, is being blamed in part for the tinderbox that led to last weekend’s attacks.
Beyond that, candidates are demanding reprisals, blaming Iran, and warning of terror attacks in the U.S.
Cornel West, who is running as an independent primary candidate on Biden’s left flank, was the only one to offer a warning against civilian killings on both sides, and lays blame for Hamas’s action at the feet of US-Israeli policies.
Here’s how they all line up:
The 2024 Democrats:
President Biden: “In this moment we must be crystal clear: We stand with Israel. And we will make sure Israel has what it needs to take care of its citizens, defend itself and respond to this attack. There’s no justification for terrorism. There’s no excuse.”
Marianne Williamson: “Innocent civilians who had nothing to do with the actions of the Israeli government are, even as I write this, either being tortured or killed or are dead already. Children have been taken hostage. A nation is terrorized. (...) And yes, I know. These events did not occur in a vacuum. I could write about — and indeed I have, and at length — the myriad injustices Palestinians have endured at the hands of Israel. (...) I will have much to say in the coming days about what is happening in Israel and how I feel the United States should respond. For now, I stand with Israel. And I stand with the Palestinian people. I do not stand with Hamas, nor will I ever. For their cause is not justice. Their cause is terror.
Donald Trump: "The atrocities we are witnessing in Israel would never have happened if I was president." (...) "less than four years ago, we had peace in the Middle East with the historic Abraham Accords. Today we have an all-out war in Israel, and it's going to spread very quickly. What a difference a president makes."
Later he added in a Truth Social post, in all-caps: “CROOKED JOE BIDEN MUST TAKE BACK AND FREEZE THE 6 BILLION DOLLARS RIGHT NOW, BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE. HOW COULD ANYONE BE SO INCOMPETENT AND STUPID? BIDEN CAUSED THIS WAR, AND IT WILL ONLY GET WORSE!!!
This has become a ubiquitous charge lobbed against the White House by Republicans in the wake of the Hamas attacks. The U.S. had unfrozen $6 billion in Iranian oil profits that were being held by South Korea, in exchange for the release of U.S. hostages last month. The money is currently held by Qatar, which was expected to be doled out for humanitarian needs in Iran. None of that money has left Doha, according to reports.
Gov. Ron DeSantis: Proposed anti-Iran sanctions for the state of Florida on Tuesday, calling the Tehran government a “clearinghouse for terrorist funding in the region.” Meanwhile, he said, "Israel, with the full support of the United States, should kill Hamas members and extinguish their entire infrastructure,"
He also blamed Biden for unfreezing $6 billion for Iran.
Amb. Nikki Haley: Her message to Israel was simple. “Finish them. Hamas did this, you know Iran’s behind this. Finish them.”
"What happened to Israel could happen here in America,” Haley said in a separate interview. “I have been terribly worried about the fact that Iran has said that the easiest way to get into America is through the Southern border … we don’t need to wait for another 9/11.”
Vice President Mike Pence: “Biden should demand the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages in Gaza and direct JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) to be prepared to mobilize US Special Forces with Israeli Defense Forces to get our people home. Hamas gives ‘em up, or we go get ‘em.”
In response to a report that Biden is considering sending a second aircraft carrier, Pence said “Just do it!”
Pence also attacked what he said were “voices of appeasement” in the GOP, including Ramaswamy, Trump, and DeSantis, who have all urgedrestraint and questioned U.S. interests in the Ukraine War. “This is also what happens when you have leaders in the Republican Party signaling retreat on the world stage.”
Sen Tim Scott: “The last thing we need is a Joe Biden wing of the Republican Party on foreign policy,” echoing Pence on the issue of Israel and Hamas.
He also called the attacks “an assault on Western Civilization. The truth is though, Joe Biden funded these attacks on Israel. America’s weakness is blood in the water for bad actors, but this is worse than that. We didn’t just invite this aggression, we paid for it.”
Later, he added, “at least 9 Americans have been killed at the hands of evil Hamas terrorists. It’s time to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel, who has the resources and the power to wipe Hamas off the map.”
Gov. Chris Christie: "What I would be doing is making sure, one, that Israel has everything that it needs to be able to take whatever actions it needs to take.” In this interview, he also criticizes “irresponsible” GOP House members for removing Speaker Kevin McCarthy and paralyzing the House in a time of crisis.
More Christie: “Biden’s appeasement of Israel’s enemies has invited this war against Israel. Appeasement anywhere never works. We must do whatever it takes to support the State of Israel in its time of grave danger, and we must end the scourge of Iran-backed terrorism. This terrorism is funded by Biden’s idiotic release of $6 billion to the Iranians.
“The Hamas war against Israel is now the second war started under Biden’s failed presidency, first by Russia in Ukraine and now by Hamas in Israel. Both could have been deterred by strong American leadership.”
Christie also blamed U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as signaling weakness.
Vivek Ramaswamy: He pushes for strong support of Israel and blasts Hamas, but warns of a wider war that could include the U.S. He presented a 6-point plan on X, which included critiques of Haley and Pence for escalatory rhetoric:
“These histrionics are unhelpful & unserious. The U.S. should provide Israel with diplomatic support, intelligence-sharing, and necessary munitions to defend its own homeland, while taking special care to avoid a broader regional war in the Middle East that would *not* advance U.S. interests.”
The 2024 independents
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: “This ignominious, unprovoked, and barbaric attack on Israel must be met with world condemnation and unequivocal support for the Jewish state’s right to self-defense. We must provide Israel with whatever it needs to defend itself — now. As President, I’ll make sure that our policy is unambiguous so that the enemies of Israel will think long and hard before attempting aggression of any kind.
“I applaud the strong statements of support from the Biden White House for Israel in her hour of need. However, the scale of these attacks means it is likely that Israel will need to wage a sustained military campaign to protect its citizens. Statements of support are fine, but we must follow through with unwavering, resolute, and practical action. America must stand by our ally throughout this operation and beyond as it exercises its sovereign right to self-defense.”
Cornel West: In an interview with POLITICO, West said that “Israel and [the] United States are primarily responsible” for the violence that took place near the Gaza strip that has resulted in more than 1,000 deaths and hundreds more in retaliatory strikes. But, he added, “Hamas must take responsibility for killing innocent folk.”
“The United States bears some responsibility, no doubt about that. And I think that Hamas and [Islamic J]ihad bear responsibility for killing innocent people,” he said. “Palestinians have a right to defend themselves in the same way that Israel has a right to defend itself. There’s no doubt about that. But neither has a right to kill innocent people.”
He added that “the state of Israel has been doing that for 75 years.”
Earlier, West said, “I would stop the killing of innocent people — be they Palestinians or Israelis — by calling for an end to the vicious U.S.-supported Israeli occupation. This violent resistance to oppression is the desperate language of an occupied people.”
Blaise Malley is a reporter for Responsible Statecraft. He is a former associate editor at The National Interest and reporter-researcher at The New Republic. His writing has appeared in The New Republic, The American Prospect, The American Conservative, and elsewhere.
Photo credit: From left, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Nikki Haley (Shutterstock/Julie Hansen); Ron DeSantis (Leonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock)
Ukraine would consider inviting Russian officials to a peace summit to discuss Kyiv’s proposal for a negotiated end to the war, according to Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff.
“There can be a situation in which we together invite representatives of the Russian Federation, where they will be presented with the plan in case whoever is representing the aggressor country at that time will want to genuinely end this war and return to a just peace,” Yermak said over the weekend, noting that one more round of talks without Russia will first be held in Switzerland.
The comment represents a subtle shift in Ukrainian messaging about talks. Kyiv has long argued that it would never negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin, yet there is no reason to believe Putin will leave power any time soon. That realization — along with Ukraine’s increasingly perilous position on the battlefield — may have helped force Kyiv to reconsider its hard line on talking with the widely reviled Russian leader.
Zelensky hinted at a potential mediator for talks following a visit this week to Saudi Arabia. The leader “noted in particular Saudi Arabia’s strivings to help in restoring a just peace in Ukraine,” according to a statement from Ukrainian officials. “Saudi Arabia’s leadership can help find a just solution.”
Russia, for its part, has signaled that it is open to peace talks of some sort, though both Kyiv and Moscow insist that any negotiations would have to be conducted on their terms. The gaps between the negotiating positions of the two countries remain substantial, with each laying claim to roughly 18% of the territory that made up pre-2014 Ukraine.
Ukraine’s shift is a sign of just how dire the situation is becoming for its armed forces, which recently made a hasty retreat from Avdiivka, a small but strategically important town near Donetsk. After months of wrangling, the U.S. Congress has still not approved new military aid for Ukraine, and Kyiv now says its troops are having to ration ammunition as their stockpiles dwindle.
Zelensky said Sunday that he expects Russia to mount a new offensive as soon as late May. It’s unclear whether Ukrainian troops are prepared to stop such a move.
Even the Black Sea corridor — a narrow strip of the waterway through which Ukraine exports much of its grain — could be under threat. “I think the route will be closed...because to defend it, it's also about some ammunition, some air defense, and some other systems” that are now in short supply, said Zelensky.
As storm clouds gather, it’s time to push for peace talks before Russia regains the upper hand, argue Anatol Lieven and George Beebe of the Quincy Institute, which publishes Responsible Statecraft.
“Complete victory for Ukraine is now an obvious impossibility,” Lieven and Beebe wrote this week. “Any end to the fighting will therefore end in some form of compromise, and the longer we wait, the worse the terms of that compromise will be for Ukraine, and the greater the dangers will be for our countries and the world.”
In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:
— Hungary finally signed off on Sweden’s bid to join NATO after the Swedish prime minister met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest, according to Deutsche Welle. What did Orban get for all the foot dragging? Apparently just four Swedish fighter jets of the same model that it has been purchasing for years. The prime minister blamed his party for the slow-rolling, saying in a radio interview prior to the parliamentary vote that he had persuaded his partisans to drop their opposition to Sweden’s accession.
— French President Emmanuel Macron sent allies scrambling Tuesday when he floated the idea of sending NATO troops to Ukraine, according to the BBC. Leaders from Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Poland, and other NATO states quickly swatted down the idea that the alliance (or any individual members thereof) would consider joining the war directly. Russia said direct conflict with NATO would be an “inevitability” if the bloc sent troops into Ukraine.
— On Wednesday, Zelensky attended a summit in Albania aimed at bolstering Balkan support for Ukraine’s fight against Russia, according to AP News. The Ukrainian leader said all states in the region are “worthy” of becoming members of NATO and the European Union, which “have provided Europe with the longest and most reliable era of security and economic development.”
— Western officials were in talks with the Kremlin for a prisoner swap involving Russian dissident Alexei Navalny prior to his death in a Russian prison camp in February, though no formal offer had yet been made, according to Politico. This account contrasts with the one given by Navalny’s allies, who claimed that Putin had killed the opposition leader in order to sabotage discussions that were nearing a deal. Navalny’s sudden death has led to speculation about whether Russian officials may have assassinated him, though no proof has yet surfaced to back up this claim. There is, however, little doubt that the broader deterioration of the dissident’s health was related to the harsh conditions he was held under.
U.S. State Department news:
In a Tuesday press conference, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the situation on the frontlines in Ukraine is “extremely serious.” “We have seen Ukrainian frontline troops who don’t have the ammo they need to repel Russian aggression. They’re still fighting bravely. They’re still fighting courageously,” Miller said. “They still have armor and weapons and ammunition they can use, but they’re having to ration it now because the United States Congress has failed to act.”
keep readingShow less
Janet Yellen, United States Secretary of the Treasury. (Reuters)
On Tuesday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen strongly endorsed efforts to tap frozen Russian central bank assets in order to continue to fund Ukraine.
“There is a strong international law, economic and moral case for moving forward,” with giving the assets, which were frozen by international sanctions following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, to Kyiv, she said to reporters before a G7 meeting in San Paulo.
Furthermore on Wednesday, White House national security communications adviser John Kirby urged the use of these assets to assist the Ukrainian military.
This adds momentum to increasing efforts on Capitol Hill to monetize the frozen assets to assist the beleaguered country, including through the “REPO Act,” a U.S. Senate bill which was criticized by Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in a recent article here in Responsible Statecraft. As Paul pointed out, spending these assets would violate international law and norms by the outright seizure of sovereign Russian assets.
In the long term, this will do even more to undermine global faith in the U.S.-led and Western-centric international financial system. Doubts about the system and pressures to find an alternative are already heightened due to the freezing of Russian overseas financial holdings in the first place, as well as the frequent use of unilateral sanctions by the U.S. to impose its will and values on other countries.
The amount of money involved here is considerable. Over $300 billion in Russian assets was frozen, mostly held in European banks. For comparison, that’s about the same amount as the entirety of Western aid committed from all sources to Ukraine since the beginning of the war in 2022 — around $310 billion, including the recent $54 billion in 4-year assistance just approved by the EU.
Thus, converting all of the Russian assets to assistance for Ukraine could in theory fully finance a continuing war in Ukraine for years to come. As political support for open-ended Ukraine aid wanes in both the U.S. and Europe, large-scale use of this financing method also holds the promise of an administrative end-run around the political system.
But there are also considerable potential downsides, particularly in Europe. European financial institutions hold the overwhelming majority of frozen Russian assets, and any form of confiscation could be a major blow to confidence in these entities. In addition, European corporations have significant assets stranded in Russia which Moscow could seize in retaliation for the confiscation of its foreign assets.
Another major issue is that using assets to finance an ongoing conflict will forfeit their use as leverage in any peace settlement, and the rebuilding of Ukraine. The World Bank now estimates post-war rebuilding costs for Ukraine of nearly $500 billion. If the West can offer a compromise to Russia in which frozen assets are used to pay part of these costs, rather than demanding new Russian financing for massive reparations, this could be an important incentive for negotiations.
In contrast, monetizing the assets outside of a peace process could signal that the West intends to continue the conflict indefinitely.
In combination with aggressive new U.S. sanctions announced last week on Russia and on third party countries that continue to deal with Russia, the new push for confiscation of Russian assets is more evidence that the U.S. and EU intend to intensify the conflict with Moscow using administrative mechanisms that won’t rely on support from the political system or the people within them.
keep readingShow less
Activist Layla Elabed speaks during an uncommitted vote election night gathering as Democrats and Republicans hold their Michigan presidential primary election, in Dearborn, Michigan, U.S. February 27, 2024. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
A protest vote in Michigan against President Joe Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza dramatically exceeded expectations Tuesday, highlighting the possibility that his stance on the conflict could cost him the presidency in November.
More than 100,000 Michiganders voted “uncommitted” in yesterday’s presidential primary, earning 13.3% of the tally with most votes counted and blasting past organizers’ goal of 10,000 protest votes. Biden won the primary handily with 81% of the total tally.
The results suggest that Biden could lose Michigan in this year’s election if he continues to back Israel’s campaign to the hilt. In 2020, he won the state by 150,000 votes while polls predicted he would win by a much larger margin. This year, early polls show a slight lead for Trump in the battleground state, which he won in 2016 by fewer than 11,000 votes.
“The war on Gaza is a deep moral issue and the lack of attention and empathy for this perspective from the administration is breaking apart the fragile coalition we built to elect Joe Biden in 2020,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a progressive leader who has called for a ceasefire in Gaza, as votes came in last night.
Biden still has “a little bit of time to change this dynamic,” Jayapal told CNN, but “it has to be a dramatic policy and rhetorical shift from the president on this issue and a new strategy to rebuild a real partnership with progressives in multiple communities who are absolutely key to winning the election.”
Rep. Ro Khanna, a prominent Biden ally, told Semafor the vote is a “wake-up call” for the White House on Gaza.
The “uncommitted” option won outright in Dearborn, a Detroit suburb with a famously large Arab American population. The protest vote also gained notable traction in college towns, signaling Biden’s weakness among young voters across the country. “Uncommitted” received at least 8% of votes in every county in Michigan with more than 95% of votes tallied.
The uncommitted campaign drew backing from prominent Democrats in Michigan, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and state Rep. Abraham Aiyash, who is the majority leader in the Michigan House. Former Reps. Andy Levin and Beto O’Rourke, who served as a representative from Texas, also lent their support to the effort.
“Our movement emerged victorious tonight and massively surpassed our expectations,” said Listen to Michigan, the organization behind the campaign, in a statement last night. “Tens of thousands of Michigan Democrats, many of whom [...] voted for Biden in 2020, are uncommitted to his re-election due to the war in Gaza.”
Biden did not make reference to the uncommitted movement in his victory speech, but reports indicate that his campaign is spooked by the effort. Prior to Tuesday’s vote, White House officials met with Arab and Muslim leaders in Michigan to try to assuage their concerns about the war, which has left about 30,000 Palestinians dead and many more injured. (More than 1,100 Israelis died during Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks last year.)
The president argues that his support for Israel has made it possible for him to guide the direction of the war to the extent possible, though his critics note that, despite some symbolic and rhetorical moves, he has stopped far short of holding back U.S. weapons or supporting multilateral efforts to demand a ceasefire.
Campaigners now hope the “uncommitted” effort will spread to other states. Minnesota, which will hold its primaries next week, is an early target.
“If you think this will stop with Michigan you are either the president or paid to flatter him,” said Alex Sammon, a politics writer at Slate.
Meanwhile in the Republican primary, former President Donald Trump fended off a challenge from former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley. With 94% of votes in, Trump came away with 68% of the vote, while Haley scored around 27%.