Biden’s Gaza Pier is an Abject Failure

Choose your label to describe what’s become of President Joe Biden’s Gaza pier: Dumpster fire. Boondoggle. White elephant. Whatever you call it, the project is a bona fide failure. It seems destined to be a textbook example of what happens when the political imperative to “do something” overwhelms serious planning.

The latest news is that the pier may be terminated ahead of schedule. Erected in mid-May by the U.S. military to deliver seaborne assistance, the pier’s operations repeatedly have been interrupted by rough waters.

A storm broke the pier apart only days after going into service. After millions of dollars of repairs, it was thrown back into action. Days later, forecasts of choppy waters led the military to tow the pier to safe harbor. It’s just returned to service a third time, though it’s hard not to believe that the project’s days are numbered.

Mother Nature may end up being the proximate cause of the pier’s demise, but it hasn’t been the only problem foiling the effort. Security has also been a major problem. In the brief time the facility actually functioned, the relatively small amounts of assistance making it to shore were being widely looted by desperate mobs.

All of these challenges were forecast well in advance. This was hardly a case in which officials struggled to make sense of what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously described as the “known unknowns” and the “unknown unknowns.” On the contrary, the obstacles posed by Gaza’s heavy seas and lack of security were obvious to anyone tracking events.

In other words, Biden and his team were operating in the easiest part of Rumsfeld’s matrix: the land of “known knowns” — problems that we know with certainty will arise and that require solutions in advance.

I was part of a group that had discussions last December with the U.S. team in charge of getting humanitarian aid into Gaza. We asked about the feasibility of a maritime channel. In so many words, we were told it was a dumb idea. Waters near Gaza are notoriously treacherous. The effort would be within range of Hamas’s guns. The amount of aid that could be delivered by sea would be a drop in the bucket of what was needed. Far better to focus on dramatically expanding land routes into Gaza, we were told.

That wasn’t the only expert advice the administration disregarded. Reporting suggests the U.S. military first learned of Biden’s decision to build the pier only when he announced it in his March 7 State of the Union address. But at the time, planners still had no answers as to how such a project could be successfully executed.

Topping their concerns was security and making sure that once supplies made it to shore, they could be safely delivered into the hands of suffering Gazans. It was already widely understood that the biggest challenge was not getting adequate supplies of food into Gaza but making sure it reached innocent civilians without first being diverted.

Remarkably, Biden and his team didn’t demand a solution to the security problem before making the pier the centerpiece of a major presidential initiative. Nor did they bother to develop one in the two months that it took the military to get the pier into place. With the eyes of the world watching and U.S. credibility on the line, the administration’s approach to a well-defined set of challenges that could make or break the effort seemed to amount to little more than hoping things would work out.

Alas, they haven’t. Instead, the pier has become a humiliating internet meme and joke — and at a price tag of more than $200 million in U.S. taxpayer funds and months of effort by 1,000 troops.

On its face, this appears to be a classic case of a breakdown in sound policymaking. At the time of Biden’s announcement, criticism of his support for Israel was reaching fever pitch. Pictures of Gaza’s devastation dominated headlines. Important parts of Biden’s Democratic coalition were threatening not to support his reelection.

It’s not hard to imagine that within the White House pressure cooker, the panic to “do something” for suffering Palestinians and show presidential leadership by going over the heads of a seemingly recalcitrant Israeli leadership became overwhelming. Something big had to be announced in the State of the Union — regardless of whether all the hard questions had been answered.

Understandable? Perhaps. Acceptable? No. Good intentions are not enough. Hope is never a strategy, especially not for the world’s greatest democracy whose resolve, reliability, and competence have never been in greater doubt. We simply can’t afford self-inflicted mistakes such as Biden’s pier — mistakes that observers saw coming miles away.

Figuring out how things went so badly awry should be a target-rich environment for congressional oversight.

John Hannah is a senior fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America and former national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Originally published in The Washington Examiner.