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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

President Biden’s finest hour

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Hamas incursions into Israel, from the State Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023. “This column doesn’t always abound with praise for President Biden and his administration. This week’s is an exception,” writes New York Times columnist Bret Stephens.

By Bret Stephens

This column doesn’t always abound with praise for President Joe Biden and his administration. This week’s is an exception.

On Oct. 8, the day after the greatest atrocity in Jewish history since Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, Jews in Israel and the diaspora woke up without a leader. The prime minister of Israel has never been, in a formal sense, the leader of the Jews — even when the office was held by people far worthier than Benjamin Netanyahu.

But the prime minister does have the most important job in the Jewish world, which is to ensure that Israel be a safe haven for Jewish life. The Jewish people have long memories; whatever happens next, Netanyahu will be remembered, irrevocably, as the man who failed — not tragically, much less heroically, but selfishly, arrogantly, despicably. He maintains political authority but is devoid of moral authority. I cannot imagine a future for him or his Cabinet of blowhards and toadies except in exile, walled compounds or prison cells.

Biden stepped into the vacuum. I have read, probably a half-dozen times now, his Oct. 10 speech about the massacres. For its moral clarity, emotional force and political directness it deserves a place in any anthology of great American rhetoric. Without equivocation, without the mealy-mouthed clichés and evasions that typified so many institutional statements about the assault, the president said what Jews desperately needed to hear.

That the massacres were “pure, unadulterated evil.” That there is “no excuse” for what Hamas did. That Israel has an affirmative “duty” to defend itself, not simply a passive “right.” That the United States will make good on its commitment to a Jewish state not with feeble statements of solidarity but with the surge of military force. A few days later, in an interview with “60 Minutes,” he called the assault “barbarism that is as consequential as the Holocaust.”

We need political leaders who maintain the capacity to call out barbarism by name and who commit themselves to its defeat. We need it especially on the political left, certain corners of which waited only a few days before returning to their usual program of denouncing Israel for its alleged or anticipated war crimes. These are the same people who sometimes pretend to believe in Israel’s right to self-defense but offer no plausible strategy for how Israel can exercise it against a terrorist enemy that hides behind civilians.

We also need Biden’s leadership given the moral void on the right. I spent the years of Donald Trump’s presidency being hectored by a certain type of Jewish conservative who insisted that Israel had never had a better friend in the White House. Today, Trump takes a dimmer view of Netanyahu — less because of his failed performance than because he can’t forgive the prime minister for calling Biden in 2020 to congratulate him on his victory. Four days after the Hamas attacks, Trump also called Hezbollah, without reprobation, “very smart.” About Vladimir Putin, he said, “I got along with him very good.”

Very good. Very smart. The Republican front-runner.

Now Biden is going to Israel. It’s a brave trip, even for a president with his vast security apparatus, given that Hamas’ rockets continue to fall indiscriminately on Israel and a second front with Hezbollah could open at any time. He is going, almost surely, to do what he does best: console the bereaved and bereft, give courage to those in fear. This is statesmanship in the teeth of far-left opposition and incessant right-wing criticism. It’s the president’s finest hour.

I have seen some criticism that the hidden purpose of the trip is for Biden to hug Israel close so that he can stay its hand, or at least slow it. I doubt it, since he could hardly have been clearer in his “60 Minutes” interview that Hamas would have to be eliminated entirely, even as there needed to be a path to a Palestinian state. That path is a long one, but Biden gets the big thing right — the former is the basic precondition for the latter. No Israeli leader can ever allow a Palestinian state to exist if a group like Hamas has even the whisper of a chance of gaining power.

I expect Biden to caution Israel’s war Cabinet that a military campaign that concludes with a long-term Israeli occupation of Gaza would be a Pyrrhic victory. I expect the Israelis to reply that they cannot be asked to eliminate Hamas as Gaza’s dominant military and political actor without the cooperation of the United States and moderate Arab regimes, particularly Egypt. This is not a confrontation; it’s a potentially fruitful dialogue that will work much better once Netanyahu is out of office and cannot put his personal needs ahead of the national interest.

I also hope that Biden’s leadership can remind the decent left — and what’s left of a decent right — of what American moral leadership looks like. To stand with our allies and hold our friends. To see our enemies for what they are and treat them accordingly. To remind ourselves that as others see us, so should we see ourselves: as the last best hope of Earth.

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1 Comment

Oscar Melendez
Oscar Melendez
Oct 22, 2023

Biden can read, poorly, the speeches other people with clearer minds prepare for him. That’s all. The American people pay for the aid to Israel and other nations. Biden is another failed democrat waiting to be replaced and, in his case, way past his prime.

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