From Jerusalem to Kyiv, It's All One War

Column: President Joe Biden lands in Israel in the midst of a war for the civilized world—whether he knows it or not.

( Natuur12/Wikimedia Commons)
October 17, 2023

When Joe Biden visits Israel on Wednesday, he will be the first U.S. president to visit the Jewish state during wartime. And he will be making his second trip to a besieged capital in less than a year.

An arc of conflict stretches from Jerusalem to Kyiv. The active fronts cannot be understood in isolation from one another. Israel and Ukraine are different countries. They face unique situations. But this is one war.

This fact should not go unnoticed. Biden's travels are connected. He has pledged America's moral and materiel support to Israel and to Ukraine. On the eve of his trip, far from where Israel and Hamas traded fire, Ukraine used the American ATACMS tactical missile system to hit the Russian invasion force.

Already you see voices on the Progressive Left as well as on the nationalist Right separating the war in Ukraine from the war in the Middle East. For the Left, different power dynamics are at work. Progressives always must side with the "oppressed" against the "oppressor." For the Right, Ukraine is somehow "woke" and thus bad, while Israel deserves support because it is nationalist and religious.

Enough with the obfuscation. The normal work of intellectuals is to make distinctions, to tease out the differences between phenomena. Not in this case. There is more than enough evidence of a vast international effort to overturn the American-led post-World War II international system. The rabid dogs tearing at the seams of world order are Russia, Iran, and North Korea. Holding the leash is Communist China, whose leader Xi Jinping welcomed Vladimir Putin to Beijing the day before Biden touched down in the Holy Land.

This terrible scenario did not emerge overnight. Since 2022, Biden has spent much of his presidency shoring up American allies who have come under assault from evil men. Why? Because of two fatal mistakes he made in 2021. The first was the harried and tragic retreat from Afghanistan. The second was his dogged effort to revive the nuclear deal with Iran.

These decisions undermined American deterrence at a crucial moment. Putin saw no cost in an outright invasion of Ukraine. The ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps took Biden's diplomacy as cover for a campaign of regional mayhem and domestic repression.

Biden's misjudgments became intertwined. Russia used its presence in Syria to cut off Middle Eastern support for Ukraine. Iran supplied Russia with kamikaze drones used to murder Ukrainian civilians. After October 7, when Iran's ally Hamas brutally raped, killed, kidnapped, and wounded thousands of Israelis and dozens of Americans, Russia said nothing.

Days later, when he deigned to comment on the infamy, Putin blamed Hamas's atrocities on the United States. It was the latest evidence that he has downgraded Russia's relations with Israel and revived Soviet anti-Semitism as a governing strategy. Putin's turn from Israel is as revealing as it is dangerous. President Obama welcomed Russia into the Middle East in 2013. Now, with the Russo-Iranian alliance, the bill may come due in the form of a wide-ranging war that costs untold lives.

President Biden's visit to Israel is an opportunity to rectify the past. To gain back lost ground, he must resist the temptation to treat the wars against Russia and Hamas as discrete. He must recognize that Ukrainians and Israelis alike man distant ramparts in a war for the civilized world. And he must act accordingly.

For starters, he must allow Israel to destroy Hamas as a political and military force. That means he cannot stand athwart a sustained ground campaign that denies the terrorist organization its most precious resource—territory and control of a population.

Nor can Biden pretend that Hamas's patrons in Qatar and in Iran are exempt from penalties. He must bring pressure on the emir of Qatar, where U.S. forces are stationed, to disavow Hamas and to extradite or expel its political leadership. He must abandon his government's efforts to "engage" with Iran. And he must swiftly impose crushing sanctions on the regime. If Biden is true to his word that Hamas must be disposed of like ISIS, then he will treat any friend of Hamas as an enemy of the United States.

Nothing less is acceptable. And much more is required. The administration is preparing to send to Congress a supplemental spending bill that will include funds for Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan, and elsewhere. Congress must pass it. Then Biden must tell Congress that this money is a down payment. The next step is a much larger appropriation. America must commit to a conventional and strategic arms buildup that will instill fear in Moscow, Tehran, Pyongyang, and Beijing.

Domestic critics will say that we can't afford it. They will have missed the point. Global security has deteriorated to such an extent that America has left the realm of "can" and "should." We have entered the zone of "need" and "must." Weapons must be produced in such quantity that Ukraine can reclaim territory, Israel can defeat Hamas, Taiwan can deter China, and America can lead the world to peace.

Deterrence is not only a matter of capability. It is also a function of will. Biden's greatest test will arrive when the Arab street, European capitals, and the American Left turn against him. The calls to abandon Israel will mount, and the world will wait to see if Biden can demonstrate strength in defense of right.

To survive the perilous hour, he will have to abandon his desire to revive Franklin D. Roosevelt's domestic policy. He will have to embrace Franklin D. Roosevelt's foreign policy of global leadership and the arsenal of democracy instead. And he must do it for real. In this war—this one war for freedom, self-government, and the rule of law—there is no room for error.