2024: The Coming Foreign Policy Peril
The explosive situation in the Middle East threatens to lay bare our strategic weaknesses.
This is the second (and final) installment of a series. The first piece may be found here.
Washington’s first response to the sudden and horrific attack by Hamas on October 7, 2023 was predictable. The truth that Israelis forcibly entered and desecrated the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, or that Israeli settlers were increasingly violent toward the Arabs on the West Bank was ignored. Washington swung into action, offering assistance and support in the restoration of Israeli security. Israel’s operations in Gaza, however, went far beyond the targeted punitive operation that most in the West and the Middle East expected.
In 1973, U.S. and Israeli leaders engaged in decision-making designed to regain Israel’s strategic advantage while also cultivating support in the West and around the world. This strategy recognized both the importance of Israel’s immediate safety and its long-term place in the family of nations.
Within a month, it became clear that, if the IDF planned on systematically destroying Hamas and recovering the hostages, it was failing to do so. Israel’s massive bombing campaign suggested that it was now launching an operation to expel or kill the Arab population in Gaza as part of a larger campaign to eventually rid Israel of its Arab population.
One hundred days later, the war against the people of Gaza and the Palestinians living on the West Bank is just beginning. Prime Minister Netanyahu told the Israeli people that the war will last for several more months, potentially into 2025. Netanyahu’s speech resonated strongly with Israelis who back wider war to destroy Hamas.
What’s next? Even though Israel will wage war as long as it receives unconditional support from Washington, Israel still has few good choices. The IDF ground force is not inexhaustible. Its ranks are overwhelmingly filled with citizen-soldiers. The IDF’s formations must be judiciously employed.
In view of these considerations and given the predisposition in Washington, D.C. to widen the war to include Iran, it seems certain that Israel will escalate. Leaving forces behind in southern Israel to contain Gaza, the Israeli forces can move north for combat operations against Hezbollah.
For the moment, Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah fighters exchange fire across the Lebanese border. However, both sides are aware that the conflict could escalate suddenly. Nearly 96,000 Israelis were evacuated from northern Israel and are living in temporary accommodations. This condition is not sustainable over a long period of time.
Israel’s senior military leaders are of a very high quality. They are intimately familiar with Hezbollah’s enormous missile arsenal and experienced militias. There is no doubt that they warned their political leaders that a war with Hezbollah is too dangerous to confront without American military assistance while Gaza and the West Bank remain conflict zones. In this connection, Washington is sleepwalking the American People into a regional war, potentially with one or more nuclear states.
Though the governments of the states that surround Israel emphatically do not want war, their populations are enraged by events in Gaza and are demanding action. In fact, two billion Muslims, or one quarter of the world’s population, are arguably angered by what the IDF is doing in Gaza. At some point, the ruling elites of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia may have to join the war against Israel or confront internal coups to remove them from power.
Far more important are the roles that Iran and Turkey may play. Ankara and Tehran, historic rivals for strategic dominance in the Middle East and leadership of the Islamic world, are watching carefully what happens in Gaza and across the region. Their rejection of “Sykes-Picot” is inspiring a renewed interest in building an “Israeli-Free” Middle East that transcends their local disputes. Both states possess the military power to destroy Israel, and both are acutely sensitive to Israel’s nuclear weapons.
Washington’s advocates for war against Iran ignore the truth that a war with Iran would confront Washington with an Iranian state backed by Russia, and, more distantly, by China. China’s interests are inextricably intertwined with its loss of access to the oil and gas from the Suez, as well as food from East Africa.
The Chinese know that a war with Iran would likely result in the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, and the probable closure of the Suez Canal, because the Arab, Turkish and Iranian states would see the war as an opportunity to inflict enormous economic damage on the United States and the West. A taste of the potential damage is evident in the refusal of the world’s largest insurance firms to insure commercial shipping through the Red Sea.
Iran’s response to Gaza is predictable. Iran has reportedly tripled its uranium enrichment to a rate of around 9 kg per month. Accelerating the production of uranium enriched to 60 percent U-235 raises concern because the material can be quickly enriched to weapons-grade levels or 90 percent. If Israeli Forces are committed against Hezbollah, Tehran may want to deter Israel’s use of nuclear weapons against it.
Though Turkey has no nuclear weapons, Ankara has access to nuclear warheads through Pakistan. The prospect of “going nuclear” is not appealing to Ankara, but neither is the Israeli use of a nuclear weapon against Turkey.
These events evoke memories of the dangers Americans faced during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, but Washington’s ruling political class does not acknowledge this possibility. Therein lies the greatest danger to Israel and the United States.
America’s historic rise to great power status in the 100 years after the American Civil War demonstrated the importance of building a healthy market economy that rested on the foundation of an incredibly productive scientific-industrial base. American society combined the steady growth in its population with a rising standard of living. This process was interrupted during the Depression and the Second World War. But the Second World War, though destructive for most of the world, did not reach American shores, and the process of restoring the model resumed in the 1950s.
Yet balancing the cultivation of national wealth and economic power on the one hand, and the national investment in military power on the other fell apart in the 1960s. Washington’s intervention in Vietnam derailed the historic approach, and in the decades that followed, the steady financialization of the U.S. economy, reliance on debt-financed consumption together with an increasingly militarized, interventionist U.S. foreign policy shifted the balance dramatically in favor of investment in U.S. military power.
In 2024, this investment model is being tested as never before. Covid severely harmed the American economy, but Washington’s failure to recognize the criticality of enforcing its own laws, of halting unrestricted immigration and preserving social cohesion is combining with the destruction of America’s manufacturing base and unrelenting warfare overseas to severely weaken America’s standard of living.
It may well be the combination of Washington’s blindness to the limits of American power and its overreliance on sanctions and military force to bully recalcitrant partners and opponents that presents the greatest danger to U.S. national security. Yet, the contempt that Washington feels for Americans in uniform is so great that Washington is ready to cover the shortfall in military manpower by enlisting so-called “migrants.” Migrants are people who broke American law when they illegally entered the United States.
Against this backdrop, there is an intensive struggle for control of the country in which most Americans are simply spectators. The ruling political class is making use of open borders to alter the human composition of the nation without regard to the health and welfare of the American people. Americans are not consulted about the life-changing decisions that shape U.S. Foreign and Domestic Policies.
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson promised to keep the American People out of the War in Europe. When he reversed his position and asked congress to declare war on Germany, Wilson couched his appeal in universalist terms, telling Americans, “The World must be made safe for Democracy.” Wilson’s plan to radically alter U.S. foreign policy and make America the world’s defender of democracy died on French battlefields. It would take the attack on Pearl Harbor to drag the American People into another World War.
At the beginning of 2024, Washington’s ruling political class is parroting Wilson, and like Wilson’s world view, Washington’s view of the world is equally untethered to reality. The problem for Americans is that Washington truly believes its actions at home and abroad enjoy moral supremacy when they clearly do not.
It’s not hard to imagine President Biden telling the American People that the United States must wage war against Israel’s enemies in the Middle East to save democracy. The question is whether any nation with a government so uninterested in the safety and protection of its own population like the one in Washington, D.C. can survive 2024?