Does Biden benefit from foreign policy dominating the 2024 campaign?

(Jonathan Ernst/Associated Press)

Does Biden benefit from foreign policy dominating the 2024 campaign?

Opinion piece Israel-Hamas

Mark Hanna

Dec. 3, 2023

Conventional wisdom suggests that Americans know little about foreign policy and care even less about it. Opinion polls regularly show that international issues take a back seat to topics that are more prosaic (economy, education) or provocative (culture wars, arms control).

However, next year’s presidential election could be a little different. Continued international crises could focus attention on the benefits and burdens of American global leadership, and our polarized politics could lead to battles and events far from home. We may be experiencing the rare phenomenon: foreign policy elections.

Israel’s war against Hamas has become a domestic policy

flash focal point

point, either praised as a righteous self-defense campaign or criticized for bringing a humanitarian catastrophe to Gaza. Some experts now believe that Ukraine’s war goals are out of reach and are calling on Washington to encourage Ukraine to pursue a ceasefire.

You might think that a president with Joe Biden’s experience would do well in foreign policy elections. So it’s surprising that his approach to the wars in Gaza and Ukraine is one he doubled down on in a recent op-ed touting the US as the essential nation concerned about

Russian leader Vladimir

Putin’s drive for conquest and reduction of Hamas motives to murderous nihilism appears instead to jeopardize his re-election.

Hamas Oct. The attacks over the past seven years and the president’s near-unqualified support for Israel’s response have brought to a boil the simmering divisions within the Democratic Party over the issue of the Palestinians. Many young, diverse and progressive voters are critical of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza’s open-air prison. They believe that the Gaza war is unjust and disproportionate.

According to a November 19 NBC News poll, more than 70% of American voters under the age of 35 disapprove of Biden’s handling of the war. Other polls show that a majority of young voters are not in favor of sending weapons to Israel, and less than half of Gen Z and millennials even want the US to publicly express support for Israel as well.

the president

has done this consistently. The issue could tip the balance in crucial swing states like Michigan, where razor-thin margins of victory are common.

Support for Israel has been unchallenged for most of Biden’s political career. Ten years ago, a pro-Israel lobbyist described his work to me as thwarting an open door. But as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has moved to the right and threatened Israel’s democratic institutions, he has angered many Israelis and tested the patience of otherwise sympathetic Americans, including many American Jews. Today, the pro-Israel lobby in Washington is dominated by evangelical Christians in the base of the Republican Party


what one commentator called solidarity with a particularly aggressive form of Zionism.

Democrats have worried about the electoral consequences of being seen as insufficiently pro-Israel since before the country was even a country. In 1947, when the United Nations was considering recognizing a Jewish state, President Truman’s general counsel, Clark Clifford, wrote a private memo to his boss: Unless the Palestinian question is dealt with boldly and favorably, there will undoubtedly be some defection in the area of the Jewish state. [Jewish voters] part of the warning

[GOP nominee Thomas E.]

Dewey. Unlike Truman, Biden faces a voting diaspora from the Middle East, new human rights norms and mass media capable of relaying images of Palestinian suffering 24 hours a day.

Beyond the war between Israel and Hamas, foreign policy elections would pose other new challenges for Biden. By and large, independent voters do not appear to share Democrats’ and presidents’ broad vision of the purpose of American power.

From a study published in October by

my organization,

the Eurasia Group’s Institute for Global Affairs found that Republicans and independents, when asked what the primary goal of U.S. foreign policy should be, chose to protect America from foreign threats and prevent other countries from abusing the American Democrats, on the other hand, have chosen to lead the free world to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law around the world.

When House Republicans recently cut funding to Ukraine for a plan to keep the government running, they drew howls from some Democrats about abandoning Ukraine. But the independents aren’t crying. The

new Institute for Global Affairs

Surveys show that many share Republicans’ skepticism about alliances, concerns about dwindling weapons supplies and a desire to withdraw U.S. troops stationed in Europe.

In other words, independents reflect Donald Trump’s rhetoric more than Joe Biden’s. The president has recently toned down his trumpets about a global struggle between democracy and autocracy. Perhaps his campaign realized that this resonated with those who would already vote for him anyway, and might fail to win over the decisive voters.

Historically, foreign policy elections benefit the incumbent president. During the Cold War, politics would stop at the water’s edge as Americans tried to show the world a united front. International crises often created a rally around the flag effect for leaders seen as decisive action.

However, voters today cannot agree on the dangers the US faces, let alone the best way to address them. Republicans Biggest Perceived Threat


immigration threatens the country’s national identity


last among Democrats in our survey. Natural disasters caused by climate change were seen as the biggest threat among Democrats, but second to last among Republicans.

Political leaders can generally be forgiven for disregarding the public’s preferences in foreign policy. Voters can be fickle or ill-informed, and expertise is crucial for foreign policy decision-making. But if foreign crises continue to grab American attention next year,


Biden ignores their positions at his peril.

Mark Hannah is a senior fellow at the Eurasia Group’s Institute for Global Affairs and the host of the SHOULD THE NAME IN QUOTES?

Podcast “None of the Above”.



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