Growing up in the heady days after World War II, after the military defeat of the Nazis and the Japanese, Pax Americana reigned supreme throughout the globe. It looked to many of us that there was an inevitable march of history away from totalitarianism and towards what was moral and what was right; that the liberal world order, with America at both the military and economic helm, would forever reign supreme.
Our spirits were further buoyed in 1991, at the fall of the Berlin wall. This seemed to confirm that it was simply a historic inevitability and rational for nations to embrace Western democracy. Our Western liberal cannon of philosophers, such as Emmanuel Kant in his Metaphysics of Morals, had argued that every individual man has an innate right to freedom and that there ought to be a social contract to ensure the universal rights of man.
All of this seemed to be playing out in real time, and we felt fortunate to be living through this epoch.
However, humankind is not always as rational as we would like it to be. Baser instincts have recently emerged on the world’s stage, such as the need to grab and hold onto power, hegemonic dreams of a nation’s pride, once glorious, resurrected. Let alone the restoration of the fragile egos of certain leaders, such as Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong-un and Ali Khamenei.
Their resentment over the dominant role of the U.S. has been boiling over, and a number of factors have led them to the dangerous conclusion that America no longer has the will to fight to defend our own interests, or those of beleaguered people around the globe. We might have the capability. However, we have been sending pernicious signals that we are no longer willing to use that capability.
And our enemies have taken note.
The first was the clear and direct warning by President Barck Obama on August 20, 2012, to Syrian President Bashar Assad that if we detect “chemical weapons being moved around or utilized” against the Syrian opposition, “that would present a red line.” One year and one day later, on August 21, 2013, the world witnessed the horrific chemical attack that Assad inflicted on the people of Ghouta, with images flashed upon our screens of children writhing and trembling in pain. President Obama at first made an impassioned speech for action, took the pulse of the country and then punted the responsibility for Syria’s handling of chemical weapons to Russia.
This came as a welcome gift to former KGB agent and current Russian leader Putin, who has been itching to resurrect the Cold War and to play a dominant role on the world’s stage.
Beginning in 2015, the Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthis began waging numerous attacks against Saudi Arabia. Included among these multiple attacks was the attack on March 25, 2022, against Saudi Aramco in Jeddah, as well as numerous civilian cities. Considerable financial investment and American interest in Saudi Aramco extends as far back as 1945, when the U.S. had its first love affair with automobiles and realized we needed a ready support of cheap oil to fuel them.
The response was a strong statement and much finger-waving by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. And not much else.
Emboldened by the lack of a clear, resolute response, on January 24, 2022, the Houthis launched an attack on the Al Dhafra Air Base, in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Approximately 2,000 U.S. airmen and military personnel are stationed there. The attack was successfully thwarted by the Patriot Missile System, yet the intention of the Iranian-backed rebels remains clear.
In the meantime, Russia successfully invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014. The lack of a resolute response simply wet Putin’s appetite for the brutal war he has launched upon Ukraine on February 24, 2022, wrecking boundless devastation and loss of life, what has been estimated as 40,000 Ukrainian civilian casualties by General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In the meantime, according to Tuesday’s New York Times, North Korea launched more than 90 missiles in 2022 and is celebrating the New Year by launching two more ballistic missile tests.
China, over the last several years, has been busy buying up land throughout Asia, Africa and. even in rural Oklahoma. Many global companies, eager for Chinese currency, have willfully blinded themselves to their sophisticated spyware and how that might endanger their national security interests.
But nowhere is American resolve being tested greater than in Iran, where thousands of courageous dissidents have risked everything, including their very lives to overthrow their tyrannical regime. We have now passed the 100-day mark, with approximately 18,000 valiant protestors incarcerated, 500 people killed on the streets, including 58 children (that we know of), two people executed by hanging and approximately a hundred more sentenced to death in Iranian show-trials that typically last no more than two minutes.
This is not simply about whether or not women must wear the hijab. These people are hungering to overthrow their suffocating tyrannical regime—for the basic freedoms that every American cherishes.
U.S. military and intelligence experts recently confirmed that Iran has been providing Russia with drones to execute its brutal war against Ukraine, and that there is an increasing strengthening of the alliance between Iran and Russia.
As President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared in January of 1939, before Hitler invaded Poland, “There comes a time in the affairs of men when they must prepare to defend, not their homes alone, but the tenets of faith and humanity on which…their very civilizations are founded.”
We have reached such a time. We must ask where America is, and in the current mindset of the Biden administration, whether we have been so morally damaged by our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that there is anything at all worth defending and worth fighting for. Is the once incandescent star of American morality in the throes of its final descent?
Sarah N. Stern is Founder and President of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a pro-American and pro-Israel think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.