Israel-Hamas conflict tests Biden's foreign policy message ahead of 2024: ANALYSIS

Experts say it could undermine his claim his leadership makes for a safer world.

October 9, 2023, 4:45 PM

The Hamas attack on Israel threatens to undermine not only President Joe Biden's foreign policy goals but his message headed into the 2024 elections that he's restoring American leadership abroad to make the world more secure, experts tell ABC News.

In one key example, the surprise assault that has killed more than 900 people in Israel, including at least 11 Americans, could derail his administration's efforts to broker a major pact to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The White House has touted the months-long effort as a historic agreement that would lead to peace and stability in the region.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House, Oct. 7, 2023, in Washington, after the militant Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip carried out an unprecedented, multi-front attack on Israel at daybreak Saturday.
President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House, Oct. 7, 2023, in Washington, after the militant Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip carried out an unprecedented, multi-front attack on Israel at daybreak Saturday.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

And while U.S. officials say it's too early to determine whether Iran-backed Hamas was trying to derail those talks through its attacks, it's clear this complicates already extremely difficult negotiations. According to Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, a political risk research and consulting firm, disrupting discussions between Saudi Arabia and Hamas was absolutely a goal of the attacks, and at least for now, those talks are "dead."

"As the Israelis are cutting deals with the Arab leaders and getting in a stronger position, the Palestinians are being treated worse: They are losing land, they are irrelevant to the discourse in Israeli politics," Bremmer said. "If you're Hamas -- and unlike the Palestinian Authority -- you've made your bed on the basis of 'Israel must be destroyed' -- well, you're becoming more irrelevant by the day ... Sometimes people facing a bunch of really bad options do really stupid things, and these atrocities are suicidal for the Hamas leadership."

PHOTO: Israeli police officers evacuate a family from a site hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Oct. 7, 2023.
Israeli police officers evacuate a family from a site hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Oct. 7, 2023.
Tsafrir Abayov/AP

There are political consequences, as well as diplomatic ones, experts say.

"The Biden story is that the world is a safer place because he is repairing alliances," Robert Lieberman, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University, told ABC News. "That was already a hard story to sustain given what happened in Afghanistan, Ukraine and rocky relations with China. The world is a dangerous place and it's not really visibly less dangerous than it was in the previous administration."

The crisis in Israel, according to Bremmer, combined with the war in Ukraine, has created an unprecedented moment of challenge for the Biden presidency.

"The Trump administration really didn't have a single major foreign policy crisis in the entire four years," Bremmer said. "Right now, you have two major foreign policy crises globally happening at the same time involving completely different sets of resources."

PHOTO: Members of the SPG-9 anti tank recoilless gun crew fires the gun onto Russian positions near the occupied Ukrainian city of Bakhmut on Aug. 14, 2023 in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine.
Members of the SPG-9 anti tank recoilless gun crew fires the gun onto Russian positions near the occupied Ukrainian city of Bakhmut on Aug. 14, 2023 in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine.
Roman Chop/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

The president and his administration engaged with a flurry of leaders over the weekend, including with Israeli, Palestinian and other regional leaders, but on Monday, while Biden met with advisers and was calling allies behind the scenes, he held no public events on the federal holiday.

On Monday afternoon, he released a statement saying that at least 11 Americans are among those that were killed in Israel and that it's "likely" American citizens are among those being held hostage by Hamas. The State Department earlier said they could not say how many Americans are missing because the number is constantly moving.

The White House also said Monday the president has directed his team to "follow up on coordination with Israel on all aspects of the crisis and to continue their work with regional partners to warn anyone who might seek to take advantage in this situation."

Regardless, Republicans are attacking Biden's role on the world stage.

"Iran, China, and Russia are looking for any reason to exploit weak U.S. foreign policy," wrote Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma on X, the social-media platform formerly known as Twitter. "Joe Biden has been asleep at the wheel."

The president's Republican opponents also rushed to blame him over the weekend, claiming that the Biden administration's recent hostage deal with Iran -- which involved unfreezing $6 billion in Iranian funds -- had freed up money for Iran to fund the Hamas attack on Israel. White House officials called the claims disinformation, adding that none of the money has been spent and the restricted funds can be spent only on humanitarian needs. Contrary to Republican claims, the Iranian oil revenue was held in South Korea -- not U.S. taxpayer dollars.

Meanwhile, the Senate is on recess this week and the House is without a speaker. Deputy national security adviser Jon Finer told ABC News he expects the Israeli response to the attacks will continue for "quite some time" and the U.S. will continue to show support and solidarity.

But getting that additional support for Israel could be challenging without a functioning Congress, with many GOP lawmakers already pushing back on Biden's request for more aid to Ukraine.

The surprise attacks on Israel also force the Biden administration to focus its attention back to the Middle East, adding to the obstacles the U.S. already faces in dealing with Ukraine and China.

According to Lieberman, at Johns Hopkins University, the violence in Israel and Gaza will be just one piece of the larger story of the Biden presidency by the 2024 election. If former President Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, Lieberman argues, then Biden's message that he's making the world a safer place could hold more weight.

"This is a steady, clear, experienced guiding hand," Lieberman said. "As against undisciplined, shoot from the hip foreign policy that seems to embrace all manner of dangerous leaders around the world."

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