Derided As Feeble And Bumbling, Biden Has Now Made 2 Visits To Active War Zones

Previous presidents visited countries at war, but only to locations under control of the U.S. military.
President Joe Biden meets with victims' relatives and first responders who were directly affected by the Hamas attacks, Oct. 18, 2023, in Tel Aviv, Israel.
President Joe Biden meets with victims' relatives and first responders who were directly affected by the Hamas attacks, Oct. 18, 2023, in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Evan Vucci via Associated Press

Mocked as old, feeble and bumbling by Republicans, Democratic President Joe Biden has now visited two active war zones in eight months ― two more than all the previous presidents combined.

Biden was headed back to the White House late Wednesday following a 30-hour round-trip journey to Israel where, with militants’ rockets still flying, he met with political leaders as well as victims of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that killed 1,300 Israelis. It had been only eight months since Biden’s day-long visit to Ukraine as that nation was under attack from Russian missiles.

“Commander-in-chief moments like this is where Biden is at his best,” said Steve Schale, a longtime Democratic consultant in Florida who works with a pro-Biden super PAC. “I believe moments like this are important to lean into when laying out the choice in 2024.”

Sarah Longwell, a Republican consultant who turned against the party after it nominated Donald Trump in 2016, said the trips will help alleviate voters’ concerns about Biden’s age, particularly if Trump winds up the nominee again in 2024.

“I think any time Joe Biden actively demonstrates a steady hand and strong leadership in moments of crisis, it ameliorates some of the worst fears about his age,” she said. “That doesn’t mean people will stop thinking he’s too old for the job, but it gives swing voters confidence that he’s still very much preferable to Trump.”

Even some current Republicans expressed grudging respect for Biden, though they argued that his trips ultimately won’t matter to most voters.

Marc Short, the chief of staff to former Vice President Mike Pence, said Biden’s visit sends a clear message to the electorate that he is not among those Democrats whom Republicans typically label as anti-Israel.

“Was it wise for him to go? Yes,” Short said.

Republican pollster Neil Newhouse, however, said he doubts the trip will matter that much a year from now to the narrow slice of voters in the half-dozen states where the general election will likely be decided.

“It’s going to take a hell of a lot more than a 24-hour trip to a war zone for President Biden to demonstrate to voters that time hasn’t worn down his energy and mental acuity needed for four more years as president,” Newhouse said. “Swing voters in swing states are less concerned about foreign affairs and more focused on kitchen table issues like the cost of groceries, wages and crime.”

Previous presidents have visited areas at war, but only to locations actively controlled by the U.S. military. Franklin Roosevelt went to Italy during World War II, but to an Allied military installation on Sicily. Lyndon Johnson similarly went to a U.S. base in South Vietnam, and George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump visited U.S. air bases in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Indeed, Trump continues to recount his trip to Al Asad Air Base as an episode of great personal bravery, describing how Air Force One flew its descent with window shades drawn and runway lights switched off ― even though he had resisted making the trip at all because he was afraid for his safety, according to one of his top White House aides.

In contrast, Biden has now gone to Kiev when it was under constant threat of Russian missile attack, and to Tel Aviv as militant groups in the Gaza Strip fired rockets at Israeli cities. (Israeli airstrikes in Gaza were not endangering Biden.)

Onetime Republican National Committee spokesperson Tim Miller said Biden’s visit will provide an effective contrast with Trump, should the coup-attempting former president maintain his polling lead and wind up as the 2024 GOP nominee ― especially after Trump praised the terror group Hezbollah as “really smart.”

“I think Biden being presidential while Trump riffs on how smart Hezbollah is does create a helpful contrast with the swing voters that matter in these elections,” Miller said, citing the numerous Georgia voters who supported both Republican Brian Kemp for governor and Democrat Rafael Warnock for Senate in 2022.

It’s a contrast the Biden campaign ― which previously produced and aired an ad spotlighting his Ukraine trip ― hopes will resonate.

“There’s a very clear split screen going on between a slate of candidates playing politics with a terrorist attack, and a president who is leading with empathy, experience, and real action in the wake of an unspeakable tragedy,” the campaign said in a statement. “For the MAGA candidates, this is a political opportunity; for Joe Biden, it’s about being the commander-in-chief.”

With many Republicans arguing against supporting Ukraine, Biden’s leadership during both foreign policy crises could redefine the two major parties’ identities in that area, said Stuart Stevens, a Republican consultant who worked on the presidential campaigns of Bob Dole, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney.

“Biden is acting like a strong foreign policy president. Dems once had that image but lost it,” Stevens said. “If Biden helps regain it, there are major ramifications.”


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