There is no ambiguity about the fact that Joe Biden’s administration is in flagrant violation of international law for its support of Israel’s brutal war on Gaza. No one seems to care.

Joe Biden speaking in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on April 17, 2024. (Nate Smallwood / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Here’s a sad little secret about the current political moment: almost no one who talks about the “rule of law” actually cares about it. As with so many things in today’s political discourse, Democrats use the “rule of law” — like “authoritarianism” and “democracy” — as little more than a partisan talking point for the narrow purpose of undermining Donald Trump and his presidential campaign.

What else explains the across-the-board silence to President Joe Biden’s flagrant, monthslong violation of US laws throughout Israel’s war on Gaza?

Yesterday ProPublica reported that Secretary of State Antony Blinken has simply been ignoring his own officials’ months-old recommendations to cut off military aid to Israeli military and police units accused of torture and other abuses, as is required by US law. These particular abuses — which include the torture and rape of a teenager and extrajudicial killings — aren’t even related to the never-ending litany of atrocities the world has watched play out every day over the course of the campaign in Gaza: they purely concern incidents that happened before the start of the war, mostly in the West Bank, which is not controlled by Hamas.

There is no ambiguity here. The Leahy Laws passed in 1997, named after the long-serving Vermont senator Patrick Leahy who was their primary author, states flatly that Pentagon money “may not be used for any training, equipment, or other assistance for a foreign security force unit” if there is “credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

While the Biden administration has gone around this by simply claiming they “have not seen any violations,” the State Department officials that spoke to ProPublica, as well as the official documents that were provided to the outlet, show that this is plainly a lie: Blinken was informed about these particular abuses all the way back in December.

It’s now deeply internalized in US politics across partisan lines and by politicians and the press alike that the rule of law simply doesn’t apply to foreign policy.

Leahy himself, who retired in 2023, has effectively accused his own party’s administration of breaking the law, after he was asked earlier this year if Biden’s unceasing flow of weapons to Israel was in line with his legislation. “No. Is that succinct enough for you?” he replied, adding that “the number of civilians who are being injured or killed by US paid armaments” was a clear violation of its provisions.

As bad as this is, it’s just one law that Biden has broken with his unconditional facilitation of the Israeli war.

The same month Blinken was informed about Israeli human rights abuses, Biden used emergency authority under the Arms Export Control Act to leapfrog Congress and sell more than $106 million worth of tank shells. But that law states specifically that US military assistance can be provided “solely for internal security (including for anti-terrorism and nonproliferation purposes), for legitimate self-defense,” or to take part in operations under the umbrella of the UN or those consistent with the UN Charter — none of which describes what Israel is doing in Gaza.

Others include section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act (which “prohibits the United States from providing security assistance or arms sales to any country” whose government restricts US humanitarian aid) and Biden’s own Conventional Arms Transfer Policy from February 2023 (“no arms transfer will be authorized” when “it is more likely than not that the arms to be transferred will be used by the recipient to commit . . . genocide; crimes against humanity,” and other human rights violations), as well as a panoply of international humanitarian law treaties that the United States has signed and ratified, making them US law, too.

As of last month, Biden is also now officially in violation of the War Powers Resolution, passed by a Democratic Congress to rein in future renegade presidents after Richard Nixon secretly widened the war in Vietnam to carry out a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. Biden unilaterally started the now three-month-long (and counting) war against the Houthis in Yemen without even a shadow of the legal justification that’s been used historically to excuse presidents snatching this prerogative from Congress.

He was theoretically still within the law as long as he notified Congress about the war within forty-eight hours of starting it (which he did) and got congressional authorization down the line for it after sixty days (which he didn’t). The Stimson Center’s James A. Siebens has called it a “latent constitutional crisis.”

None of these violations have gotten even an iota of the attention or fiery denunciation as the most trivial of Donald Trump’s criminal indictments (not to be confused with the very serious ones), like the one surrounding his disguised payments to former porn star Stormy Daniels, the trial over which began this week. But hey: illegally starting wars, violating treaties, breaking prohibitions on facilitating human rights abuses — little matters like these hardly compare in importance to a presidential candidate paying hush money to his mistress.

George W. Bush’s scandalous ‘imperial presidency’ has now simply become the presidency.

As all of this should remind us, it’s now deeply internalized in US politics across partisan lines and by politicians and the press alike that the rule of law simply doesn’t apply to foreign policy, even though the US president’s ability to embroil the country in foreign wars is arguably the office’s single most consequential and far-reaching facet. Presidents have now gotten away with so much brazen lawbreaking in this sphere — whether George W. Bush’s global system of torture dungeons and lying the country into Iraq, or Barack Obama’s illegal war in Libya and claiming of the power to assassinate US citizens without due process — that any violations along these lines are now considered unremarkable, even a routine part of a newly sworn-in president’s rite of passage.

That’s why hardly anyone bats an eye when Dick Cheney, who lied the country into a war that killed thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, turns up in an ad admonishing Trump for having “lie[d] to his supporters” and charging there is “no greater threat to our republic.” It’s why there was outrage over Trump’s mishandling of classified documents, but almost nothing said about the fact that those documents laid out secret plans for war with Iran. George W. Bush’s scandalous “imperial presidency” has now simply become the presidency.

To (possibly) paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, a US commitment to the rule of law would certainly be a good idea. But as the collective yawn induced by President Biden’s serial lawbreaking over the course of the Gaza war shows, there is no such thing. And the lack of pushback, let alone accountability, he’s facing for it will serve the country much worse under presidential administrations to come.

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