President Joe Biden’s announcement that he halted shipment of some weapons to Israel ahead of its move into Rafah because “civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs” is a terrible policy to inflict upon a democratic ally fighting a just war of self-defense. Whether Biden’s decision is a pause or a cutoff, a signal or a bluff, serious damage—not unlike the House’s half-year delay in approving critical military aid for Ukraine—has already been done: In addition to scarring U.S.-Israel relations, making Israel feel isolated, hamstringing Israeli forces in the field, and paradoxically increasing the risk to innocents by prolonging the war, Biden’s decision to hold back military assistance—especially in such a public manner—further dilutes the value of America as an ally. 

The president’s desire to limit civilian suffering and end the war is understandable, but he would do well to reverse course and follow the counsel of two Roosevelts.

First things first: It’s altogether appropriate to hold our allies and partners to high standards of behavior—especially when they use U.S. weapons systems. Independent, unbiased experts at West Point conclude that Israel is following the laws of war—and remind us that “urban warfare is a unique type of hell…especially for civilians. Noncombatants have accounted for 90 percent of casualties…in the modern wars that have occurred in populated urban areas.”

Yet in this war, the administration seems to be holding Israel to a higher standard—military, political, moral—than we hold ourselves. 

Consider America’s response to Hitler and Tojo’s war of aggression—the firestorms that devoured Dresden and Tokyo, the atomic strikes that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Consider the post-9/11 fury America unleashed across Afghanistan and in parts of Iraq. Consider what America and its coalition partners inflicted on Mosul, on Raqqa and on non-coalition forces during anti-ISIS operations. Consider the relentless drone war conducted during Biden’s years as vice president.

The purpose of this list is not to condemn those operations, which targeted and destroyed the war machines of evil regimes. The blame and blood of all those places are on the enemy’s hands—just as the bloodshed in Rafah and the whole of Gaza is on the hands of Hamas and its paymasters in Tehran. 

The purpose here is to underline a hard truth: War is a terrible scourge, a distortion of the Creator’s design, and a waste of the Creator’s crowning creation. However, in a fallen world full of broken men, war is a reality. That’s why responsible powers should do everything possible to deter war by amassing sufficient capabilities to signal that the costs of launching a war far outweigh the possible benefits. If—when—deterrence fails because some death-wish dictator or mass-murderer masquerading as a holy man has miscalculated the cost-benefit analysis, responsible powers like the U.S. and Israel must focus their resources on defeating the enemy as rapidly and thoroughly as possible.

That brings us to the counsel of President Theodore Roosevelt. 

It’s well known that TR often quoted an African proverb that counseled, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” What’s less well-known is that TR also warned of the dangers of doing the opposite. 

“It is not merely unwise, it is contemptible, for a nation, as for an individual, to use high-sounding language to proclaim its purposes, or to take positions which are ridiculous if unsupported by potential force, and then to refuse to provide this force… If there is no intention of providing and keeping the force necessary to back up a strong attitude, then it is far better not to assume such an attitude.”

TR also counseled, “Above all we should keep our promises…We ought not as a nation to break faith or even to seem to break faith.”

With those wise words in mind, compare Biden’s decision to withhold military assistance from Israel with the language he’s used to describe the war visited upon Israel.

Last October, Biden described the “pure, unadulterated evil” unleashed on Israel by the monsters now hiding in Rafah: “more than 1,000 civilians slaughtered…parents butchered using their bodies to try to protect their children…babies being killed…women raped, assaulted, paraded as trophies…Holocaust survivors abducted and held hostage.” Because of the nature of the enemy and the war it unleashed, Biden explained, “We stand with Israel…And we will make sure Israel has what it needs to take care of its citizens, defend itself and respond to this attack.”

Barely two months ago, during his State of the Union address, Biden was unequivocal about what had happened and what needed to happen: “This crisis began on October 7th with a massacre by the terrorist group Hamas…the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust…Israel has a right to go after Hamas…Israel has an added burden because Hamas hides and operates among the civilian population.”

This month, speaking at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Biden reminded Americans that “Hamas unleashed this terror…My commitment to the safety of the Jewish people, the security of Israel and its right to exist as an independent Jewish state is ironclad.”

Yet Biden and his administration have publicly criticized Israel’s tactics and objectives, larded Israel’s response with caveats and constraints, failed Israel at the UN, and lectured Israel to “take the win” after a massive Iranian missile attack failed to inflict significant damage. Now—with IDF troops coiled to land what could be a decisive blow—Biden has publicly announced his decision to withhold weapons needed to defeat the beastly terrorist brigades of Hamas.

In short, Biden—and by extension, America—have not kept our word, our promise, to a friendly nation fighting for its life. This is terrible for Israel and for America’s security interests beyond the Middle East.

When placed alongside the months of congressional dithering over aid to Ukraine, alongside former President Donald Trump’s beyond-reckless comments about NATO, alongside the withdrawal from Afghanistan (thoughtlessly negotiated by Trump and thoughtlessly executed by Biden), and alongside Trump’s kneejerk pullout from Syria, the Biden administration’s one-eighty on Israel represents yet another self-inflicted wound to America’s credibility.

Friend and foe alike are watching all of this. Iran, China, Russia and their proxies gaze at the mosaic of retreat, indecision and backpedaling, and conclude that America lacks the stomach and seriousness, endurance and tenacity to wage Cold War II. Those under threat from the suddenly-surging axis of autocrats—democracies in Tel Aviv and Tallinn, Tokyo and Taipei—see an America that cannot be counted on to deliver. Indeed, Israeli officials grimly conclude, “We will stand alone.” What an awful indictment of American foreign policy.

“Christians have erred by holding the state to the same standard as the church or the individual,” as the Providence declaration on faith and foreign policy points out. Indeed, governments are expected to do certain things individuals shouldn’t do—and arguably shouldn’t do certain things individuals should do. However, there are biblical principles that apply to governments. Surely one of those is the importance of keeping a commitment and fulfilling a promise.

If or when Biden and his team correct this latest misstep, they should turn to the wartime words of President Franklin Roosevelt for guidance.

Eleven months before Pearl Harbor, as the Axis war machine carved up the Eastern Hemisphere, FDR awoke Congress and the nation with a startling announcement that “in no previous time has American security been as seriously threatened from without as it is today,” that “the democratic way of life is at this moment being directly assailed in every part of the world…by arms or by secret spreading of poisonous propaganda,” and that “the tempo of modern warfare could bring into our very midst the physical attack which we must eventually expect if the dictator nations win this war.”

As a result, FDR called on Congress to provide “full support of all those resolute peoples, everywhere, who are resisting aggression” and to fund “a swift and driving increase in our armament production.” 

Our world increasingly looks like the one FDR described—tyrants on the march, free peoples under threat and under attack, enemies probing and conducting what feels like a dress rehearsal. To prevent World War III, we must face up to the burdens of Cold War II. That begins with what FDR called “armed defense of democratic existence.”

“Armed defense of democratic existence” isn’t about toppling autocracies or planting new democracies. The political support for those righteous causes has drained away, and the momentum has swung back to the side of democracy’s enemies. Now, America must lead the free world in holding on to the democratic space—Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan, the Baltics and the Philippines, Kosovo and Korea—by pouring resources into deterrence and defense. With an unserious defense budget that doesn’t even keep pace with inflation, Washington has not shifted anywhere close to FDR’s “swift and driving increase in armament production.” 

“Let us say to the democracies,” FDR declared, “we Americans are vitally concerned in your defense of freedom. We are putting forth our energies, our resources and our organizing powers to give you the strength to regain and maintain a free world.”

Over the last six months, Congress (in Ukraine) and the White House (in Israel) have delivered a very different message to the free world. If the message doesn’t change soon, there will be less of the free world to defend—and less chance to prevent Cold War II from turning into something far worse.