The wars in Israel and Ukraine have revealed a fraught issue in United States foreign policy—both major political parties face significant opposition from their most ideological members on how to approach world affairs.
A faction of progressive lawmakers has diverged from the majority of Democratic lawmakers by showing reticence toward supporting Israel in the wake of the deadly attack over the weekend by the pro-Palestinian militant group Hamas which America designates as a foreign terrorist organization.
On October 7, Hamas led the deadliest Palestinian militant attack on Israel in history. Israel subsequently launched its heaviest-ever airstrikes on Gaza. As of Thursday, at least 1,300 people had been killed in Israel, the Associated Press reported, citing the Israeli military. At least 1,417 people had been killed in Gaza, according to authorities there, the AP said.
Concurrently, a growing number of conservatives oppose providing aid to Ukraine following its invasion by Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin. While most GOP lawmakers still support Ukraine, a June 2023 Pew Research Center poll found that 44 percent of Republicans believe Ukraine is receiving too much aid with just 14 percent believing the country has not received enough and 20 percent seeing aid levels as “about right.”
The White House and congressional leaders from both parties have stated their desires to support both countries. However, the growing trends among the hard left and hard right could ultimately push America to cede its role in checking the power of competing countries and upholding international norms.
“When the United States is not involved in the world, the world becomes a worse place, and when the world becomes a worse place, the United States often is threatened and gets into really problematic situations,” Chris Tuttle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Newsweek. “When the United States steps back, usually, if history is a guide, it eventually has to step back in because there are actual threats to the country.”
Opposition from the hard left against Israel has been longstanding within the Democratic Party, Tuttle said. This feeling stems from animosity toward the Israeli government’s handling of the Palestinian people with some leftists feeling that the state has oppressed Arabs, according to Tuttle.
Some of these members have expressed skepticism over providing U.S. military involvement to Ukraine, Tuttle added. However, these sentiments have largely not extended into opposition within Congress due to the Biden administration’s steadfast support for the country and Russia’s lack of a sympathetic narrative that Palestinians express.
In contrast, Tuttle said that conservatives view support for Ukraine as a drain on U.S. funds that could be better appropriated elsewhere. The party has seen its isolationist wing grow under former President Donald Trump, Tuttle said, which has voiced opposition to interventionist efforts. This culminated in a September vote where 93 House Republicans voted in favor of prohibiting all military assistance to Ukraine, with 126 GOP lawmakers opposing the effort.
Republican support for Israel has been widespread, however. Tuttle said the party largely views the country as a critical ally in the Middle East that shares its values. With Israel’s national identity being rooted in its status as a homeland for the Jewish people and the country also serving as a primary setting of the Bible, evangelical conservatives see Israel as upholding Judeo-Christian values in a region dominated by Islam.
“The United States will always stand with Israel, our greatest ally in the Middle East,” Republican Majority Leader Steve Scalise said in a statement following the attack by Hamas. “Let me be clear: this is a deliberate, unprovoked and evil attack by Iranian-backed terrorists who want nothing more than to destroy Israel, and America will not stand by idly. Israel has our full support and prayers.”
Scalise, who on Wednesday was nominated to fill the vacant role of House speaker, has been less vocal on Ukraine as of late, a country he has previously voted in favor of supporting. These questions regarding support for Ukraine raise concerns over America’s commitment to providing sustained support to its allies, Matt Dallek, a political historian with George Washington University said.
While America has seen bipartisan foreign policy consensus during moments of the Cold War era and following 9/11, it has also faced challenges to galvanizing support around international efforts. Dallek told Newsweek that the Vietnam War, the CIA intervention in Nicaragua during the 1980s, and the intervention in Bosnia during the 1990s all serve as recent examples of political divisions around foreign involvement.
Dallek believes, however, that the majority support from the two parties for both Israel and Ukraine means each ally will have its needs met, preventing the world from raising serious doubts about America’s standing within the international community.
“At least for the time being, I don’t think that the United States has reached some kind of crisis where it is incapable of supporting its newish ally in Ukraine and its older, historic ally and partner, Israel,” Dallek said. “I don’t want to minimize those divisions, as divisions are real, but my sense is that there is still a fair amount of support for backing both countries and shoring up both alliances.”
However, Dallek warns that Republican opposition to Ukraine does not appear to be going away and that America’s allies in Europe will face lingering questions regarding the Republican Party’s commitment to upholding its longstanding alliances.
Tuttle similarly does not consider the isolationist factions of each party to simply be a product of the current time. He sees these factions in each party as being on the rise and something party leaders will have to reckon with in the future.
“The question is, for the future, how much additional traction [isolationists] are going to be able to gain,” he told Newsweek. “I think that both of these factions [on the left and right] are growing stronger, and I see this as something that is going to be with us for quite some time.”