The Latest On The Foreign And Domestic Fronts

Heather Cox Richardson

In the final exchange of hostages taken by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel under the current truce, Hamas released 16 people—10 Israelis and four Thai nationals, along with two Russian-Israeli women in a separate release—while Israel released 30 people from its jails.

Negotiators from Qatar, Egypt, Israel, and the U.S. are rushing to try to get another truce in place, even as far-right Israeli leaders are pressuring Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to restart the assault on Hamas. Far-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir warned today that unless he does, Ben-Gvir’s faction will leave the government coalition Netanyahu leads. “Stopping the war = breaking apart the government,” Ben-Gvir said. 

Losing that faction would not overturn the government, but it would weaken Netanyahu enough that he could have to call elections. Netanyahu, who remains under indictment for bribery and fraud, is eager to stay in power, but recent polls show his popularity is perilously low: only 27% of Israelis in one recent poll said they would vote for him. Two members of his staff told Sheera Frenkel of the New York Timeshe wants to avoid an election at all costs. 

Shortly after Ben-Gvir’s statement, Netanyahu said: “There is no situation in which we do not go back to fighting until the end.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Israel today with a different agenda than Netanyahu’s. “We’d like to see the pause extended because what it has enabled, first and foremost is hostages being released and being united with their families,” Blinken said. “It’s also enabled us to surge humanitarian assistance into the people of Gaza who so desperately need it. So, its continuation, by definition means that more hostages would be coming home, more assistance would be getting in.”

The foreign ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization met today in Brussels, Belgium, where they met with Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba as part of the NATO-Ukraine Council. Before the meeting, Kuleba noted that Ukraine is “pretty much becoming a de facto NATO army, in terms of our technical capacity, management approaches and principles of running an army.”

A statement by the NATO-Ukraine Council agreed that it was deepening the NATO-Ukraine relationship, vowing that allies would “continue their support for as long as it takes” and declaring, “A strong, independent Ukraine is vital for the stability of the Euro-Atlantic area.” In the statement, Ukraine also committed to reforming the government and security sector as it moves toward a future NATO membership. 

David Andelman, a former foreign correspondent for the New York Times and CBS News who now writes Andelman Unleashed, noted today in CNN that President Biden has brought a very clear-eyed set of principles to foreign affairs, making him “one of the rare presidents who has accomplished something quite extraordinary: He has carefully defined and quite successfully defended democracy and democratic values before a host of existential challenges.”

In the Middle East he has defended Israel, which The Economist’s Democracy Index identifies as the only democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, while also trying to restrain the Israeli government and to get humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, all while (so far) keeping Iran and Hezbollah from spreading the conflict. Andelman also called out that Biden avoided the direct conflict with Russia that Russia’s president Vladimir Putin so clearly wanted, supporting Ukraine but delaying its admission to NATO and ratcheting up military aid slowly enough that the U.S. did not get directly involved.

Biden is defending democracy where it has a foothold and can survive and then prosper, Andelman says, noting that he had little interest in continuing to send U.S. troops to Afghanistan, where it seemed clear democracy “never really took root.” Andelman writes, “Its ill-conceived and improbable ‘elections’ were little more than window dressing on a deeply flawed and corrupt kleptocracy that America had been backing with the bodies of thousands of its troops.”

Defending democracy “is something that makes [Biden] tick,” Andelman writes, “and remain appealing to others, as I’ve seen in so many parts of the world.” 

The administration has also been crystal clear that its approach to governance at home is also designed to protect democracy by demonstrating that a democracy can do more for people than an authoritarian government, but in a speech at a campaign reception in Houston, Texas, Vice President Kamala Harris acknowledged that voters somehow don’t seem to understand that transformation. 

Even as former president Trump threatened to use the government to silence press outlets he doesn’t like, Harris noted the billions of dollars invested in infrastructure and clean energy, allowing the U.S. to be a global leader in new technologies; the cap of insulin at $35; rural broadband and the clean-up of lead pipes; and pointed out that all of the things the Democrats have accomplished are “incredibly popular with the American people.” The challenge, she noted, is getting people to understand these transformations, and which party is responsible for them. 

“[T]here’s a duality to the nature of democracies,” Harris said. “On the one hand, …it is very much about strength—the strength that it gives individuals in terms of the protection of their rights and freedoms and liberties. When a democracy is intact, it is very strong in its capacity to lift the people up.” But, she added, “It is also very fragile. It is only as strong as our willingness to fight for it.”

Today the Democrats’ economic program got another boost with the news that the economy grew faster in the third quarter than previously reported, coming in at a blistering 5.2%, and that a record 200.4 million shoppers visited stores and websites on the five days after Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday shopping period. That number reflects people’s confidence in their own finances, but also that the economy appears to be cooling and there are therefore bargains to be had.  

A new analysis by the Treasury Department shows that the Inflation Reduction Act, which puts money into climate change technologies, is delivering investment to communities that have benefited least from the economic growth of the past few decades. Today, President Joe Biden presented his case for his economic policy directly to one such community in the Colorado district of MAGA Republican mouthpiece Representative Lauren Boebert.

Biden visited CS Wind, the largest wind tower manufacturer in the world, which is expanding its operations in Pueblo, Colorado, thanks to the IRA. Boebert voted against the IRA, calling it “dangerous for America” and saying it was her “easiest no vote yet.” But the new $200 million expansion will create 850 new jobs, and CS Wind has already hired 500 new employees. And a solar project in the district will bring both power and as many as 250 jobs.

The White House listed the many projects underway in the district thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including nearly $30.2 million to redesign and revitalize streets and $160 million for a 103-mile pipeline that will bring clean water from Pueblo to 50,000 people in southeastern Colorado. Boebert called the law “garbage” and “wasteful” and said it was “punishment for rural America.” 

“President Biden made a commitment to be a President for all Americans, regardless of political party, and he’s kept that promise,” the White House said. “The Biden-Harris Administration will continue to deliver for workers and families in Colorado’s third congressional district and across the country—even if self-described MAGA Republicans like Representative Boebert put politics ahead of jobs and opportunities created by Bidenomics.“

Biden was even blunter. After listing the benefits the new laws have brought to Boebert’s district, he said: “She, along with every single Republican colleague, voted against the law that made these investments in jobs possible…. And then she voted to repeal key parts of this law, and she called this law a massive failure. You all know you’re part of a massive failure? Tell that to the 850 Coloradans who got new jobs.… It all sounds like a massive failure in thinking by the congresswoman and her colleagues.”

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