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Biden’s foreign policy missteps gravely endanger his reelection chances 

Typically, presidential elections tend to turn on domestic issues such as the economy, immigration and crime, rather than foreign policy. And while 2024 will likely follow that pattern, it would be a mistake to overlook how Biden’s foreign policy missteps may doom him to a one-term presidency.  

From the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan to the largest land war in Europe since World War II, Israel battling Hamas in Gaza and a rapidly deteriorating relationship with China, Biden’s seeming inability to control the turmoil, or project any semblance of strong American leadership is turning into a mortal threat to his reelection chances. 

Elected to restore stability and America’s standing on the international stage following the chaos and isolationism of the Trump administration, Biden has jumped from one foreign policy crisis to the next. 

Indeed, it is no secret that the decline in Biden’s approval ratings — now at a dismal 38 percent — began with the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Immediately prior to that, Biden had consistently been above 50 percent approval, but ever since, he has never again broken above, per FiveThirtyEight

On foreign policy specifically, the decline is even starker. Shortly after his inauguration, 6 in 10 (60 percent) of voters approved of Biden’s handling of foreign policy, per Harvard/Harris polling at the time. Today, just 42 percent of voters approve, according to the latest Harvard/Harris poll

Given the multitude of other concerns on voters’ minds right now — inflation, the southern border, crime and personal concerns over Biden’s age and fitness — perceptions of Biden as weak or ineffective on national security may prove decisive. 

Put another way, while foreign policy is generally not the first or even second issue for voters, there have been so many missteps — including Biden’s ill-conceived recent decision to suspend arms shipments to Israel — that Americans would be justified in feeling that they can no longer trust this administration in an increasingly unsafe world. 

Now, to be fair to Biden, it is true that a not-insignificant contributing factor to the chaos is the dysfunction in Congress, which recently held up a foreign aid bill for weeks due to partisan bickering. The holdup made America look inept and unable to protect our allies. 

However, almost immediately after the bill passed, Biden made the decision to cave to progressive pressure and withhold much-needed ammunition from Israel. That move will do virtually nothing to end the war but will do everything to inflame the majority of Americans who are pro-Israel.  

Moreover, by harming Israel’s deterrence, Biden is directly raising the risk of Iran or Hezbollah thinking they can take advantage with a massive attack on Israel, which would spark an all-out war in the Middle East, bringing in America and likely resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths. 

In that same vein, it isn’t simply that Biden’s actual policies are often unpopular. It’s that they are haphazard, usually belated and presented to the American people in a manner that does very little to inspire confidence that this administration is up to the job.  

On Ukraine, Biden dithered for months on the question of sending F-16s and advanced, long-range missiles like HIMRA’s and ATACMS, only to reverse the decision and eventually approve the transfer of those systems. The indecisiveness wasted valuable time, neutralized the advantages Ukraine would have had for their counteroffensive last year, and cost thousands of Ukrainian lives. 

Similarly, on Israel, Biden has prolonged that war by putting conditions on the Israeli military that the United States would never apply to ourselves. Had Biden not sought to handcuff the Israelis, that war would have been over by now, instead of continuing to be a political headache for the administration.  

Quite simply, while foreign policy may not be as important as the economy, it is not an area that Democrats can afford to neglect. The share of voters who rank foreign policy as a substantial issue in 2024 has doubled since 2023, according to AP-NORC polling.  

As a result of Biden’s foreign policy missteps, he now lags behind Trump in terms of who Americans trust to handle specific geopolitical threats, such as America’s conflicts against our principal adversaries: China, Russia and Iran. 

On the conflict with China, nearly one-half (46 percent) of voters trust Trump rather than Biden (34 percent). On the Russia-Ukraine war, voters also trust Trump (45 percent) over Biden (34 percent). And, in the Israeli-Hamas war, Trump (43 percent) leads Biden by 10 points, according to Bloomberg/Morning Consult polling. 

If, between now and the election, Biden cannot find a way to restore Americans’ confidence that he can lead the free world through these increasingly challenging and worrying times, he will be on the losing end of an issue that, I think, will come to define this election cycle. 

Ultimately, when Americans go into the ballot box in November, one question they will ask themselves is whether or not the world is safer than it was four years ago. Right now, the polls make it clear that no, Americans don’t feel that the world is safer, nor do they trust the current administration to make it safe. 

Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant and the founder and partner at Schoen Cooperman Research. His most recent book is “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”

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