As the White House steps up its shelling of targets in the Middle East amid regional unrest over Israel’s monthslong assault on Gaza, we discuss the possibility of wider war with Matt Duss, a former foreign policy adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders, now with the Center for International Policy. “The Biden administration’s strategy here is failing,” says Duss. Voter outrage over its unwavering pro-Israel stance is “incandescent” and on track to harm the president’s reelection campaign as Democratic Party members pull back on get-out-the-vote efforts, while some may refuse to vote at all. “The issue of Israel-Palestine is not just a foreign policy issue. It is an issue of social and racial justice,” explains Duss. “This is going to be fixed, if it can be fixed at all, by changing policy and ending support for this massacre.”
NERMEEN SHAIKH: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Nermeen Shaikh.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is back in the Middle East as Hamas is set to respond to a ceasefire proposal to pause fighting and release more hostages. This comes after the U.S. launched airstrikes in Syria, Iraq and Yemen Friday in retaliation for the killing of three U.S. soldiers by Iran-backed militants who attacked a base in Jordan.
Meanwhile, President Biden is facing more pressure over his support for Israel’s assault on Gaza.
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders has announced plans to introduce an amendment to remove $10.1 billion in military aid for Israel. In a statement, Sanders denounced what he called, quote, “Netanyahu’s illegal, immoral war against the Palestinian people.”
Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warner and Brian Schatz have sent a letter to Secretary of State Blinken to pressure the Biden administration to push back against Netanyahu’s rejection of a two-state solution. The lawmakers wrote, quote, “Prime Minister Netanyahu’s explicit departure from that position, both in his statements and in government policies aimed at undermining this internationally agreed upon pathway, is dangerous to both U.S. and Israeli national security.”
For more, we’re joined in Washington, D.C., by Matt Duss, executive vice president at the Center for International Policy. He’s the former foreign policy adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders.
Matt, welcome back to Democracy Now! If you could begin —
MATT DUSS: Thank you.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: — by giving your response to these recent round of U.S. strikes in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and what you think may come of this?
MATT DUSS: Well, I think it shows clearly that the Biden administration’s strategy here is failing. Their approach since October 7 in the region has been twofold. One is to, essentially, back Israel’s assault on Gaza unconditionally, and the second was to try and contain the conflict to Gaza. And that second part has clearly, steadily, been failing over the past several weeks and months, but especially now in the wake of the attack in Jordan, you know, with these attacks in Syria, in Iraq and, of course, continuing in Yemen. So, this conflict has steadily been spreading, as anyone should have expected it to, because this kind of violence simply cannot be controlled.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And if you could say, Matt — many have suggested, yourself included, that there are people in D.C., in the D.C. establishment, who have been advocating for a war with Iran for decades. I mean, what are your concerns about where they stand now and how much their voices may be amplified? And how many of —
MATT DUSS: Right.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: — those are Democrats?
MATT DUSS: Right. As I’ve said, I mean, there are people in Washington, in the United States, in U.S. politics, for whom Iran has always been a target. And when we saw this immediately after the War in Iraq, as your previous guest said, there were people who were making clear that their goal was to move on to Iran next. So, any time there is any kind of attack or crisis in which Iran is involved, you see these voices trying to exploit the situation to once again drive the U.S. into an open conflict with Iran, which I think many understand would be an absolute catastrophe. If people thought the Iraq War was bad, they can — you know, we can only imagine what a war with Iran would look like. This is not just me talking; these are military experts in the United States who have repeatedly warned that an open conflict between the United States and Iran would be absolutely disastrous.
But I think there’s a political component here. You always have to take that into account. And unfortunately, you do see voices in Washington who always see a political advantage in bashing the president and kind of promoting this kind of hawkish approach to foreign policy that, I have to say, has failed repeatedly, and yet they continue to make these calls for more war, more escalation, with zero accountability.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And if you could respond, Matt, to this Bernie Sanders announcing plans to introduce an amendment to remove over $10 billion in funding, in military aid to Israel?
MATT DUSS: I support it wholeheartedly. I think, as is so often the case, Senator Sanders is speaking for many Americans and, frankly, I think, a majority of Democratic voters, if you look at the polls of Democratic voters’ opinions of the U.S. approach to the war. This is now an over four-month conflict. This is, I think, clearly a massacre, with close to 30,000 people killed, huge parts of Gaza just obliterated. We’ve seen in the past weeks acknowledgments from Israeli officials that they understand they are not going to achieve the goal of eradicating Hamas. And frankly, no one ever really thought that they seriously could do that. So, the idea that the United States is simply going to continue supporting this conflict with zero conditions as we have been, I think, is absolutely the wrong approach, and I think Senator Sanders’ proposal here is the right one.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And if you could speak, Matt, about the role of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, something you’ve spoken about recently, as well? A poll found in January that only 15% of Israelis want Netanyahu to remain in power after the war in Gaza ends, though many support his strategy of —
MATT DUSS: Yeah, yeah.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: — his Gaza strategy of, effectively, crushing Hamas and —
MATT DUSS: Yeah.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: — also much of the Palestinian population there. So, in a sense — I mean, Netanyahu is only likely to remain in power so long as this war continues. If you could talk about the impact of that?
MATT DUSS: That’s right. Yeah, that’s right. And I think that is what is particularly dangerous here and gets to the particularly pernicious role of Netanyahu himself. Let’s remember, before October 7th, he was facing multiple corruption indictments. He was facing mass protests, that had been going on for months, against his government’s attempt to undermine Israel’s judiciary. And then, on top of that, now you have a belief by a vast majority of Israeli citizens that he personally failed to protect Israelis, that it was — the atrocities that we all saw on October 7 were the result of his failures. So he knows that as soon as this war stops, so does his political career. And the only hope he has of continuing to stay in power is to prolong and escalate this war as long as possible. And that’s extremely dangerous.
And frankly, I think it’s been a very bad decision by President Biden to tie himself so closely to Netanyahu and to this strategy. And I think we need to detach from them and show much, much more distance from what Israel is doing.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, indeed, Biden’s reelection bid seems also to be in question, given his Gaza policy. And you’ve said that his administration does not seem to understand the depth of the problem arising from his Gaza policy.
MATT DUSS: Yeah.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And I’ll just read a bit from this Politico article by Jonathan Martin, where he says, quote, “that a hot war in Gaza this fall may mean 30,000 fewer votes apiece in Madison, Dearborn and Ann Arbor and therefore the presidency.” Biden especially came under criticism last month when he spoke a hundred days since the October 7th attack and failed to mention at all what’s happened in Gaza, the devastation in Gaza —
MATT DUSS: Yeah.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: — with tens of thousands killed, displaced — and displaced. And all this as a recent YouGov poll found 50% of self-described Biden voters say what’s happened in Gaza, Israel’s attacks on Gaza, constitute a genocide. So, could you explain what you think the possible implications of this are in November? And also, given the Democratic — young Democratic base, why isn’t someone even like Bernie Sanders calling for ceasefire?
MATT DUSS: Well, I think I’m hesitant to ever overestimate the impact that foreign policy will have on a presidential election. But I do think we are seeing that for many Democratic voters, for many progressives, particularly young progressives, the issue of Israel-Palestine is not just a foreign policy issue. It is an issue of social and racial justice. And I think this is something the Biden team simply does not understand or only now starting to really understand.
Again, this is going to be a very close election. If it’s going to come down to possibly a few hundred thousand votes in a few key states, and if a lot of these voters who you were just referencing — I doubt they will vote for Trump; they may simply choose not to vote. But they will almost certainly not work to get out the vote. They will not do the volunteering. They will not do the phone banking. They will not do the knocking on doors that’s going to be necessary to maximize vote turnout for President Biden’s reelection. And that should very much concern them.
And I think what’s going on here, it’s not simply a matter of a difference in policy. I think everyone understands the stakes, what a Trump election or a Trump reelection would mean for this country. But the anger at Biden’s support for this assault on Gaza is really just incandescent. It is a matter of principle for many Democrats, not just Arab and Palestinian Americans, but more broadly, some groups of Democratic voters who simply cannot bring themselves to pull the lever or check the box for a president who is supporting this. And this is not going to be fixed by dispatching a few administration officials to certain neighborhoods in Michigan or elsewhere. This is going to be fixed, if it can be fixed at all, by changing policy and ending support for this massacre.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Matt Duss, thank you so much for joining us, executive vice president at the Center for International Policy and former foreign policy adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders.