NEW YORK, September 10, 2013 — One year following triumphant shouts of progress in America, tumult reigns throughout the Middle East. Across the region and throughout the world, a power chasm yawns as Russia advances and America retreats.
In moments, we will watch President Obama try to sell “Red Dawn Rising” as good news as we struggle to take in the wreckage wrought on American influence since September 11, 2001.
Meanwhile, Israelis approach Yom Kippur in rapt attention. Anxious monarchs in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Gulf kingdoms enter a state of even higher vigilance while the superstitious among us worry about Friday the 13th.
Valuable Insights from the King’s Speech of September 1939
With Syria, President Obama is inches away from lighting world-wide conflagration. Not Afghanistan, nor Iraq, nor Egypt, nor Libya were backed as solidly as Russia and Iran continue to support Assad.
When King George VI addressed the people of Britain on September 3, 1939, he analyzed a stark challenge posed by Hitler’s Germany that could surface now in an instant:
“We have been forced into a conflict … to meet the challenge of a principle which, if it were to prevail, would be fatal to any civilized order in the world.
It is a principle which permits a state, in the selfish pursuit of power, to disregard its treaties and its solemn pledges, which sanctions the use of force or threat of force against the sovereignty and independence of other states.
Such a principle, stripped of all disguise, is surely the mere primitive doctrine that might is right, and if this principle were established through the world, the freedom of … nations would be in danger.”
It is tough in 2013 to see how the principle that King George cited as a peril in 1939 is not also dangerous when the United States employs it. Getting Security Council approval to attack Syria is not “hocus-pocus.” Failure to do so sets dangerous precedents.
So far, Syria has not attacked America nor is our country in imminent danger from a Syrian offensive anywhere in the world.
If there is proof that the Assad regime employed banned chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, produce it for verification and may international justice prevail.
If there is no such proof, why does America rush to impose regime change yet again one year following the dread day in Benghazi when four Americans paid with their lives and countless others suffered in the aftermath of the Libyan adventure? Furthermore, have we learned nothing from what happened in Egypt since 2011 or in Iran since 1979?
Go Big or Go Back to Ground Zero on the Middle East
In crafting America’s foreign policy, our President should avoid concentrating upon tactical violations in the conduct of war. Instead, he should address the vexing root of a centuries’ old conflict that threatens to engulf the entire world.
In the West, we believe that men and women need not select a particular religion to exist, to prosper, or to lead nations effectively. This belief is rooted in bloody experience over recent centuries of protracted strife. We are better for our scars and we can legitimately point to progress that has lifted our men, women, and children up from muck and mire to longer, better informed, and healthful lives.
Elsewhere, others subscribe to an unflinching view that no law except Islamic law is binding and that no secular state holds legitimate power. The most radical among these believe that the same God who endowed all men with free will empowers certain among us to kill others in God’s name.
With regard to this wide ideological divide, good borders might have made for peaceful neighbors. Instead, advances in technology that will not retreat create our brutal reality—no one today is insulated or safe from aggression, whether state-sponsored or perpetrated by shadowy, non-state actors.
So, it is up to the greatest powers among us to use the influence we do possess, to still passions that can spill across national borders. In this regard, perhaps Russia and America can co-operate to the world’s benefit.
The United States has turned a blind eye to the disturbing reality that important financial support, overt assistance, and tacit approval for radical Islamist movements continues to flow from inside Saudi Arabia, even as official government sources claim otherwise.
Other monarchies, such as Qatar, have aggressively fanned militant Islamic passions in places such as Egypt, Libya, and Syria.
If the United States exercised some of its considerable remaining influence upon Saudi Arabia and Qatar, might Russia be able to make similar restraining efforts upon Iran?
Then, if the United States and Russia worked together as true geo-political and economic partners, might the entire world rest much more comfortably and prepare again to try to grow in peace?
It may be that Vladimir Putin does not respect Barack Obama or believe the American political process will ultimately deliver upon promises to cement lasting piece in the Middle East. He may even see the poorly defended energy pools as prizes, ripe for his picking while America and the West struggle with our own intractable economic problems.
America has her own reasons to distrust Russia. Yet, upon this brink we could actually find common ground and move forward.
We mark solemn anniversaries now. We should learn from our losses and evolve through our challenges.
This is a moment for Barack Obama to make the Nobel Peace Prize Committee proud. It is a time to go far beyond pinpricks, drone strikes, and military campaigns right to the essence of what divides the world.
Tonight is a war or peace moment.
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