Op/Ed

Editorial: Biden’s ‘weakness’ isn’t his age, it’s his timidity

ANGELO LYNN

On a few notable foreign policy issues, President Joe Biden, along with fellow Democrats and Progressives, need to reset their politics to match today’s reality. Specifically, how America manages immigration on its southern border needs revision, America’s support of Israel requires rethinking while rejecting the hard-right policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and America needs a more forceful retort to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

President Biden is moving in that direction, though far too slowly.

• Just this Wednesday, Biden finally used his presidential power to put a temporary halt to the flood of immigrants pouring illegally across our southern border from Mexico. For the past three years, he has ignored abundant signs of trouble and has held on to outdated ideals.

When President Barack Obama was elected in Nov. 2008, the total number of illegal apprehensions and expulsions was 723,825 (during George W. Bush’s final year). During Obama’s first year in office that number dropped to 556,041, according to the U.S. Border Patrol, and hovered between a low of 337,117 in 2015 to a high of 486,651 in 2014. By the third year of Donald Trump’s first term, in 2019, the number of illegal aliens apprehended had spiked from 310,531 in 2017 to 859,501 in 2019 — a 250% increase in two years.

When Biden took over Jan. 2021, worldwide pandemic restrictions had cut that number in half to 405,036, but as those restrictions were lifted the numbers of immigrants apprehended and expelled soared to 1,662,167 in 2021, 2,214,652 in 2022, and 2,063,692 by the end of 2023.

It should be obvious the explosion of illegal immigrants has demanded a stronger response. President Biden and liberal Democrats/Progressives initially tried to stay true to a notion of accepting all legitimate immigrants seeking asylum and were overly reluctant to clamp down. The sheer number of immigrants, however, overwhelmed the system. Belatedly, Democrats tried to pass legislation this winter that would have strengthened the nation’s control of its southern border, but House Republicans blocked passage of the bipartisan bill, at Trump’s insistence, because they didn’t want to hand Biden a legislative victory and tools to solve the problem.

Biden’s response is an executive action offering a temporary solution, though it doesn’t fund additional border patrol agents, nor move the thousands of backlogged asylum cases through the courts any faster.

Progressives and some liberal Democrats have criticized Biden’s change of tactics, stubbornly refusing to admit today’s harsher reality. Biden, on the other hand, has made clear distinctions between his clampdown on immigration and Trump’s approach.

True to form, Trump railed against immigration in derogative terms, saying immigrants “poison the blood of America,” and assailed them as “criminals.” Biden is trying to keep America’s tradition of being open to legal immigration with this caveat: “To protect America as a land that welcomes immigrants, we must first secure the border and secure it now,” he said this week. Biden added he would never separate children from their parents at the border as Trump did in his first term, and on his first day in office, Biden proposed an immigration overhaul that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants (a measure Republicans have refused to consider.)

While Biden has convinced most moderate Democrats to back his new approach, liberal critics are laggards — to Biden’s detriment. If we’re to avoid a repeat of the assault on immigrants seen during Trump’s first term, liberal Dems and Progressives need to reassess as well — sooner than later. A united front on this issue is crucial to Biden’s campaign.

• In Israel’s war with Hamas, Biden was right to side with Israel following Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, but he’s been far too slow in reining in Netanyahu’s worst instincts. While condemning the horrific killing of thousands of Gaza civilians under Netanyahu’s scorched earth tactics, Biden has yet to use the full force of American policy (its purse) to push Netanyahu to stop the slaughter. (Trump, of course, would be far worse and would allow Netanyahu free reign to bomb the Palestinians in Gaza into oblivion.)

Nonetheless, Biden needs to work harder in distinguishing America’s support of Israel while vehemently disagreeing with Netanyahu’s tactics and pressing him harder to make changes. 

• In Ukraine’s war with Russia, Biden must take off the gloves and rally the U.S. and NATO allies to take a tougher stand against Russian aggression. Biden should speed more offensive fire power to strike Russian-based targets that are relentlessly bombing Ukraine, as well as provide more air power and training so Ukrainian fighters can eventually control their own air space and push back Russia’s invading troops. Biden’s halfway measures — providing Ukraine just enough support to survive, but not win — are no way to conduct warfare. If the U.S. and its allies are intent on preventing Russia from overtaking Ukraine, they should be in this battle to win — that is, to assure Ukraine’s freedom and independence.

If D-Day (which is being celebrated this week) taught us any lesson, it’s that bold action is needed in the fight for freedom. The Ukrainians have demonstrated their willingness to fight against a much bigger foe for their independence; it’s past time the U.S. and NATO help them achieve it.

Biden’s timid approach to these three issues, more than his age, speak to his projection of weakness and frailty. Ironically, it may be his career-long desire to be a statesman seeking consensus that hampers his willingness to act. What the public sees, however, is a president who is overly cautious — even when the facts are screaming for bolder measures.

Biden has six months to change that perception.

Angelo Lynn

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