In the convoluted landscape of international relations, consistency is deemed a luxury, but the cost of glaring national hypocrisy can be steep – entailing lost credibility, diminished global prestige, and eroded self-respect. The recent foreign policy maneuvers by the West, particularly the United States, in response to the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, have sparked concerns about a perceived double standard that may reverberate globally for years to come.
Richard Haass, a distinguished global analyst, once remarked, “Consistency in foreign policy is a luxury policymakers cannot always afford.” However, the stark contradiction in the West’s responses to the situations in Ukraine and Gaza raises questions about the potential repercussions of such an approach. Joe Biden’s obstinate defense of Israel’s actions in Gaza following his condemnation of Russia’s actions in Ukraine underscores this inconsistency. The fear is not merely relegated to liberal circles; it extends to real-world impacts on global relations, particularly between the global north and south and the east and west.
The Biden administration, reluctant to alter its course, may argue that the situations in Gaza and Ukraine are far from identical. Still, the diplomatic support for the U.S. and Israel wanes when they find themselves joined by only eight other nations, including Micronesia and Nauru, rejecting a ceasefire resolution for Gaza. This challenges the notion of America as the “indispensable nation,” a phrase often invoked by Biden and previously by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Conversely, Vladimir Putin, having weathered a period of global isolation, perceives a trend favoring Russia, as observed by Fiona Hill, a former U.S. State Department official specializing in Russia.
Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s veteran foreign minister, capitalizes on the West’s perceived selectivity, stating, “The rules were never published, were never even announced by anyone to anyone, and they are being applied depending on what exactly the west needs at a particular moment of modern history.” This sentiment gains traction among rising nations skeptical of the “international rules-based order.”
The situation becomes more complex as Palestine, traditionally treated as a special historical case in global politics, becomes a focal point of what Daniel Levy, an Israeli specialist, calls the “poly crisis.” He notes a shift in global perception, with Palestine emerging as a symbolic space representing rebellion against Western hypocrisy and the unacceptable global and post-colonial order.
In a world grappling with the forces of fragmentation, the U.S.’s handling of the Gaza conflict takes on broader significance, impacting not only the region but also multilateralism itself. Should the U.S. defense of Israel falter, two potential outcomes loom: a growing trend towards transactional, non-ideological alliances and the emergence of larger, more assertive alternative blocs, possibly an expanded BRICS or other Chinese-led alliances.
A mere six months ago, the narrative looked vastly different. The West, recovering from the so-called “restlessness” of the Trump era, responded to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine with unprecedented solidarity, reaffirming its commitment to democratic values. Ukraine became the symbol of European values, and the liberal order, battered by past conflicts, experienced a resurgence. Yet, this newfound unity faces skepticism in parts of the world that do not see Ukraine as a global anti-imperialist struggle but rather as a regional conflict within Europe.
The perceived inconsistency becomes even more apparent when contrasting Western reactions to Russia’s invasion with their response to Israel’s assault on Gaza. While condemning Russia’s actions as war crimes, Western leaders exhibit hesitation in unequivocally denouncing Israel’s actions, raising questions about the application of international law. This contrast is evident in statements from figures like John Kerry and President Biden himself, who passionately described Russia’s actions as crimes against humanity but offered conditional statements on Israel’s conduct, emphasizing the need for legal processes to determine culpability.
This inconsistency comes at a cost. Western support for Israel’s actions in Gaza has strained efforts to build consensus with developing countries, particularly in the Global South, on condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The backlash has solidified entrenched positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, potentially derailing future diplomatic initiatives related to Ukraine.
The Biden administration’s failure to acknowledge how its broad support for Israel can alienate much of the Global South is causing concern among American diplomats. In the Middle East, many perceive the U.S. and Western powers as reluctant to hold Israel accountable, raising doubts about their commitment to human rights.
As Russia seeks UN Security Council support for a resolution condemning violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the West’s response is scrutinized. The potential for a Russian propaganda victory, with support from countries like China, poses a diplomatic challenge. The risk of increased abstentions in future UN votes related to Ukraine further compounds the situation.
The EU, G7, and NATO find themselves in a precarious position as their influence wanes, and the Global South demands a more inclusive international discourse. The West’s strategy is increasingly questioned, and the need for consistency in addressing global issues is emphasized. As the crisis unfolds, the world watches to see if the West can navigate the complexities, salvage credibility, and forge a united front that transcends regional conflicts, upholds international norms, and truly leads by example.