Joe Biden Engages European Allies on Ukraine and Gaza

Biden Navigates Complex Alliances Amid Ukraine and Gaza Conflicts

by Faruk Imamovic
Joe Biden Engages European Allies on Ukraine and Gaza
© Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

As President Biden arrives in France today, he embarks on a crucial diplomatic mission to rally European leaders in support of Ukraine while navigating the complex geopolitical landscape shaped by the ongoing conflict in Gaza. This visit, coinciding with the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, marks his first trip to Europe since the October 7 terrorist attack by Hamas that killed 1,200 people in Israel and provoked a military retaliation resulting in approximately 36,000 deaths in Gaza.

Biden's European tour includes a summit in Italy with the leaders of the Group of 7 (G7) nations and a subsequent NATO anniversary summit in Washington. These meetings will place Biden in a challenging position, as he is simultaneously embraced and isolated by his traditional allies. The situation demands a delicate balance, testing his diplomatic acumen in unprecedented ways.

Peter Beinart, a professor of journalism and politics at the City University of New York, highlighted the difficulty of Biden's stance. "Gaza undermines the moral clarity of the argument they want to make about Ukraine," he noted. "The Gaza war makes that story a lot less compelling to a lot of people."

Ivo Daalder, former ambassador to NATO under President Barack Obama, acknowledged the inherent contradictions in Biden's approach. “Yes, it seems to be slightly contradictory to be making one argument on Russia and another argument on Israel,” Daalder said. “But the situations are different. One was attacked, and the other did the attacking. It’s pretty big.”

A Complex Web of Alliances

For more than two years, European allies have aligned closely with Washington in supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression, matching American investments with their own commitments to Kyiv. However, they have grown increasingly critical of Israel's operations in Gaza. This criticism has intensified even as the Biden administration has resisted efforts by the International Criminal Court to pursue war crime charges against Israeli leaders.

The upcoming events are designed to showcase Western unity and resolve. The D-Day commemorations will see President Emmanuel Macron of France hosting leaders from World War II partner countries, including British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Notably absent will be President Vladimir Putin of Russia, reflecting the strained relations due to Moscow's actions in Ukraine. Instead, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will attend, seizing the opportunity to advocate for more aid from Western leaders.

John F. Kirby, a White House spokesman, emphasized Biden's awareness of the differing perspectives among allies. “Disagreements with allies and partners are not new to President Biden,” Kirby stated. “He fosters unity and collaboration across a range of issues.”

The meetings come at a critical juncture for both Europe and the Middle East. Ukraine faces an escalating Russian offensive threatening its eastern defenses, while Israel and Hamas are under pressure to agree to a cease-fire that could pave the way for a more sustainable peace in the region.

Biden recently outlined a cease-fire agreement, advocating for the release of hostages held by Hamas, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, and a permanent end to the conflict. This proposal, endorsed by the G7 nations, represents an attempt to bridge the differences among allies when Biden arrives in Paris.

At the same time, Biden addressed another contentious issue by authorizing Ukraine to use U.S.-provided weapons against targets inside Russia for self-defense, aligning with positions already adopted by France, Britain, Germany, and Poland.

President Emmanuel Macron of France and Joe Biden
President Emmanuel Macron of France and Joe Biden© Getty Images

Navigating Diplomatic Challenges

Dan Fried, a retired diplomat now at the Atlantic Council in Washington, outlined the strategic approach needed. “The only way out of such a dilemma is to push ahead on both problems—help Ukraine do better or win and get Israel on a path to peace,” Fried said. “Hence the decision to lift some restrictions on Ukraine’s use of U.S. arms and to push a complex and ambitious peace plan in Gaza.”

Despite efforts to align policies, significant differences remain. Recently, Spain, Ireland, and Norway recognized an independent Palestinian state, following an International Court of Justice order for Israel to halt its military offensive in Rafah, Gaza. Most European governments have supported war crimes actions against Israel at the International Criminal Court. France's foreign ministry reiterated its support for the ICC, emphasizing its commitment to fighting impunity.

Critics argue that Biden's diplomatic challenges in Europe stem from inconsistent approaches to international crises. Peter Rough of the Hudson Institute pointed out the contradictions in U.S. policy. “In Ukraine, he’s backing Ukraine against the Russian-Iranian alliance, while in Gaza he is managing Israel, even limiting it, as it confronts an Iranian proxy.”

From another perspective, some foreign policy veterans believe Biden's unwavering support for Israel has exacerbated the situation. Eric Rubin, a former president of the American Foreign Service Association, expressed skepticism about Biden's choices. “Israel has lost the sympathy of most other countries and their citizens, and we won’t see it get it back in our lifetimes, I fear.”

Ultimately, despite differing views, the U.S. remains a pivotal player in global affairs. Ivo Daalder emphasized America's central role. “Everybody is looking to us to figure out how to deal with Russia, how to deal with China, and frankly even how to deal with Israel. We’re still looked at by our friends and by our adversaries as the ones who will determine the outcome.”

Joe Biden European Ukraine