Strategic leadership is about action—and rhetoric. When they match, history is made. When they don’t, it’s just a speech that’s soon to be forgotten.
No one would remember FDR’s “Day of Infamy” speech if America didn’t take the war to our enemies and deliver a humiliating defeat in World War II. No one would recall John F. Kennedy’s promise to go to the moon if American astronauts hadn’t kicked up dust later in the Sea of Tranquility.
That’s the standard for presidents who want to deliver historic speeches that propel Americans to greatness. By that measure, Joe Biden fell a hundred yards short of the goal line Thursday night in his televised address on the Israel-Hamas war from the Oval Office.
There were so many red flags that Biden has no plan to put his soaring promises to lead Americans into action, they could outfit a rally in Red Square. Here are some of the biggest.
Biden continues to dodge addressing the father of chaos in the Middle East—Iran. The president declared he would “continue to hold Iran accountable.” He never has held Iran accountable.
In fact, hours before the president’s speech, Iran’s proxies committed over a half dozen attacks against American forces in the region. Biden’s promise to deal with Iran could not ring more hollow.
The president also clung to geopolitical nonsense, repeating his commitment to a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. Who thinks that negotiation is going to happen anytime in his lifetime?
If Biden could magically sprinkle fairy dust and create a Palestinian state, what would it look like? It would be a state sponsor of terrorism. It would be a tool of Iran. It would be an enemy sworn to the destruction of Israel. It would be thoroughly corrupt and oppressive of the Palestinian people. What reasonable person could believe that is a reasonable idea?
Biden also disparaged antisemitism and, indeed, all religious oppression. This is a president whose antisemitism strategy couldn’t even define the term. He’s also the one who engaged the Council on American Islamic Relations, a thoroughly antisemitic and racist organization, as a partner for writing a report on how to combat antisemitism.
Biden’s White House has unleashed the Justice Department on pro-life Christians. He has labeled his political opponents as violent extremists. He has demanded that the State Department campaign for woke social policies that offend the religious beliefs of America’s friends and allies.
After all of that, Biden wants us to believe he’s champion of religious liberty?
There are more disconnects in Biden’s speech between rhetoric and reality than there are mines in a Russian minefield in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
Perhaps the most cynical act of Biden’s speech is to wrap yet another supplemental budget request in an American flag, binding funding requests for Israel and Ukraine. Biden has exploited the good will of Republicans in Congress with supplemental requests for national security spending, only to attach to all of them even more spending for the president’s woke priorities.
The president knows this approch strains the good will of the political opposition, pitting Republicans against Republicans, because he also ignores concerns about deficit spending, accountability, and honest debate over the content and appropriateness of supplemental spending.
When the war against Israel broke out Oct. 7, Biden latched on to the opportunity again. This isn’t leadership, it’s crass, inside-the-Beltway swamp politics.
There was little of real constructive leadership to be found in Biden’s speech. We heard nothing new, interesting, or promising for a new direction to fix the many missteps that led to triggering the wars against Ukraine and Israel.
We might, perhaps, be impressed that Biden managed to stay up late to deliver it.
This commentary originally was published by National Interest
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