Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Francis Fukuyama wrote a widely popular book, The End of History and the Last Man, proclaiming that history is linear and evolutionary, and that humanity has reached “not just … the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: That is, the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”
We would love to have believed that man has evolved to his highest state, and that history is evolutionary and linear, leading people to truly understand and appreciate the magnificent gift of the liberal world order and embrace it with the United States standing at its helm.
However, with 150,000 troops along the border of Ukraine, it is unfortunately and conspicuously clear that history is not linear.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, the former KGB agent that he is, would like to resurrect the Cold War. He sees the world as a zero-sum game: He wins; America and the West lose. As renowned Tel Aviv University political scientist Emmanuel Navon said recently, “Vladimir Putin once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as the biggest geopolitical catastrophe in history.”
How does this play out for Israel? For years, Israel has had to calibrate that delicate balancing act of maintaining a good relationship with the United States and maintaining a diplomatic channel to Russia, with troops just north of Israel’s border in Syria. Ironically, Russia has kept Iranian troops at bay, and Israel has been working with the Russians to get approval to attack Hezbollah strongholds in Syria or convoys carrying Hezbollah men and equipment to Lebanon.
Israel, whose modern rebirth came about after the Holocaust, cares deeply about anti-Semitism, and there are sizeable Jewish populations in both Ukraine and Russia.
For Israelis, who live in the Middle East where they have to confront radical Islamism, tribalism and conflicting ethnic disputes, there never was the illusion of the “end of history,” when one can nurture the illusion that history is going along a steady rational, linear course. That is the neighborhood that seems to produce religious fanatics with a totalitarian view of how to create a utopian society. Inevitably, this leader becomes a totalitarian, and the utopian society inevitably erodes into a dystopian one.
Yet we have always had in the West a troop of “useful idiots” (as Vladimir Lenin called them), who believe the assurances of fanatical despots and dictators.
Certainly, that is true of the Islamic Republic of Iran. A June 2016 BBC report revealed that the Carter administration had actually helped depose Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, afraid that there would be a civil war between the military and the followers of Imam Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which would cause instability and hurt U.S. national security and oil interests.
Khomeini went on a charm offensive towards the White House, saying, “You will see we are not in any particular animosity with the Americans,” promising that his new Islamic Republic would be a humanitarian one, which would benefit “the cause of peace and tranquility for all mankind.”
In November 1978, U.S. Ambassador to Iran William Sullivan sent a cable to the Carter White House, warning that the “Shah was doomed.” By January 1979, the Carter administration helped the Shah depart for a “vacation,” abandoning the Iranian military that depended on the United States and paving the way for the Islamic Revolution.
The next thing we knew on Nov. 4, 1979, our embassy was seized in Tehran, taking 66 Americans hostage and holding them for 444 days. And for the last 43 years, women who are raped have been subjected to public lashings, gays have been hung in the public square and religious minorities, and other dissidents have been taken to the notorious Evin prison, where they are tortured and frequently executed.
Since 2015, we have had almost seven years to see how the government in Iran has cheated on the nuclear deal, enriching two tons of uranium to the highly purified state of 60%—way beyond the maximum level of purity of 3.65% specified in the deal. We have seen them block International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from entering suspicious sites, and, of course, build nuclear sites deep underground at the Fordow and Natanz nuclear facilities. If their program was so legitimate, why are they hiding these sites?
And now, we have members of our own American administration who had promised us a “longer and a stronger deal,” but who are, nonetheless, sprinting headlong into a “shorter and a weaker deal.” History does not march along a linear path, and unfortunately, it is not marching in the path of the liberal world order with the United States at the helm.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.
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