America Can Still Rise to the Occasion Amid a Crisis

America Can Still Rise to the Occasion Amid a Crisis

The latest Israel-Palestine conflict offers America the opportunity to reaffirm its leadership and present a new vision, enabling the democratic world to contain Iran and begin the long march toward the resolution of the world’s thorniest conflict.

Usually, history’s turning points are invisible to the living. Forks in the road are spotted by historians only long after events and their immediate repercussions have faded. 

Sometimes, it is undeniable that the great river of history has shifted out of its channel and onto a new course. We are now living through one of those turning points in history. 

We must ask ourselves: Will we summon the courage to confront this titanic shift, or will its tides carry us away? 

2023 was the year that it became clear that Russia and China, along with their allies, North Korea and Iran, united against nations on its periphery, NATO, and the great guarantor of global security itself, the United States. 

It is a war of armies in Ukraine, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen. It is an economic war of trade embargoes against Iran and Russia and, increasingly, against China. It is a diplomatic and cultural conflict. But, most of all, it is a war of values. 

President Joseph Biden’s speech on October 19 was significant. His words come at a time when democracies face sustained and systematic attacks from those who abhor freedom because it threatens their power. Biden sees that history is moving. And he is right! 

Iran has been the world’s largest financier of terrorism ever since its 1979 revolution. Tehran has long used a malicious strategy of proxy war, directing its militias in Syria and Yemen to attack Sunni Arabs, its militias in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip to kill and kidnap innocent citizens, and its militias in Tindouf to kill innocent Moroccan citizens. So, what has changed? 

Vladimir Putin benefits from dividing America’s attention. China, too, wants to topple the post-World War II order that extended prosperity and peace to much of the globe. Instead, China prefers to return to a world of empires, one in which its dominion is unchallenged.

Iran offers China a chance to gain influence over the Persian Gulf—where a third of the world’s oil threads through straits barely eighteen miles wide. China has also encouraged more cooperation between historical antagonists Iran and Russia. The emergence of this alliance means an intensifying challenge to America’s global leadership. 

Imagine a world without American leadership. The U.S. Navy no longer safeguards global shipping, meaning shortages multiply and prices climb. Without the U.S. dollar, prices are hard to compare across a welter of fluctuating local currencies. Without American might, larger nations invade their smaller neighbors, and terrorists strike with impunity. 

Democracy and cooperation die. Authoritarian predators loom and lurk, striking at will, with all other countries seen as prey. 

To keep this nightmare at bay, America must continue to fulfill its role as a global leader. As British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said of the United States in 1943: “The price of greatness is responsibility.” 

The military power available to the United States is essential to deter aggression. But equally vital is its self-confidence, its willingness to act upon its lofty ideals. 

American policy towards Iran must be revised entirely. The current approach—endless negotiations over Iran’s needless construction of nuclear weapons and releasing some $6 billion in frozen funds to free five hostages—has failed. 

Now that Iran’s proxies have attacked, taking a dozen U.S. hostages along with 200 people of other nationalities, and thousands of innocent people on both sides have been killed, the time for such engagement with Iran has passed. 

While Iran is already one of the most sanctioned nations on Earth by the United States, the European Union, and other allied nations, Washington must impose new “smart” sanctions on the international travel of the mullahs and their revolutionary guard leadership. Controls on the sale of Iran’s oil and gas reserves must be reimposed. And America will have to maintain its aircraft carrier groups in or near the region for the foreseeable future. 

Iran will continually test President Biden’s resolve, as it recently did through proxy attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria. Yemen’s Houthi militia has launched ballistic and cruise missiles as well as drones toward Israeli targets. In the coming weeks, as the war between Israel and Hamas escalates, attempts to take U.S. soldiers as hostages will grow, as will attempts to kill American troops or diplomats. 

A military response may be necessary, but it will not be sufficient. The United States must also ensure this war does not spread to other countries. 

Leadership starts with articulating a vision, a perspective for the post-war period. 

Even if the war were to eradicate the military capabilities of Hamas, the threat of violence would only disappear if we give a better future to Palestinian youth. 

But first of all,  this war should be conducted in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law that prioritizes the protection of civilians. Secondly, Hamas should immediately release all civilian hostages. “By holding scores of Israelis and others as hostages in Gaza Hamas is committed war crimes,” announced Human Rights Watch in a statement.

Then, we need to replace hate with hope in the hearts of ordinary Palestinians. How? 

Palestinians need to be shown a clear path to a better life, with jobs, schooling for their children, and modern health care for all. And they need to have trust in their local government that it can reliably deliver clean water, round-the-clock electricity, and streets safe from crime. 

This begins with an imperative: after the fighting, a renewed Palestinian Authority will have to be stood up in Gaza because it is the only legitimate way to enable the Palestinian people to govern themselves. This will have to be a Palestinian Authority with solid management and financial controls so that it can be a reliable partner for peace.

To do these things, we must give it the money and the training to succeed. It would be perhaps helpful if an international coalition were formed with a clear mission for a limited duration, namely to provide aid to the Palestinian Authority, provide security, and train the Palestinian police. Rebuilding Gaza is not just about rebuilding buildings. We must create hospitals, schools, places of culture, and, above all, long-term jobs. It is this material base that will allow a political outcome. 

What is expected of a U.S. president after the end of military operations is to create the conditions to negotiate a lasting peace. It is not simple since sometimes painful concessions must be made, but it is not impossible. 

The current crisis offers America the opportunity to reaffirm its leadership in the region and present a new vision that will enable the democratic world to contain Iran, to weaken or even destroy its proxies, but also to begin the long march towards the resolution of a conflict that is the thorniest in the world. 

America has always risen to take on seemingly “impossible” tasks. Here is the next one.

Ahmed Charai is the Publisher of Jerusalem Strategic Tribune. He is on the board of directors of the Atlantic Council, the International Crisis Group, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and the Center for the National Interest.

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