Advice for Biden: ‘War is never inevitable’

Biden has the terrible dilemma of charting out the administration’s foreign policy with tremendous issues of war and peace at stake/

An Iranian locally made cruise missile is fired during war games in the northern Indian Ocean and near the entrance to the Gulf, Iran June 17, 2020 (photo credit: WANA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS)
An Iranian locally made cruise missile is fired during war games in the northern Indian Ocean and near the entrance to the Gulf, Iran June 17, 2020
A student once asked my college professor, Martin Blumenson (the eminent military historian and biographer of US Gen. George Patton), whether each war we were studying could have been avoided.
Before the professor could answer, another student shouted: “no, it was inevitable!” To which Blumenson replied, “war is never inevitable,” meaning war is the result of a series of choices that will either result in or avoid war.
Often, choices intended to avoid war bring about exactly the opposite result. Avoiding war requires both wisdom and forward thinking. An obvious example of inverted outcomes was Neville Chamberlain choosing appeasement for the UK when confronted with German regional ambitions, which in the end encouraged Hitler’s appetite for conquest, resulting in 60 million deaths and almost ending Western civilization.
The election of Joe Biden as president of the United States has brought my professor’s insight into sharp focus as the Democrats’ new administration takes office. Biden has the terrible dilemma of charting out the administration’s foreign policy with tremendous issues of war and peace at stake – and with a much shorter fuse than when he was last in office.
The agonizing choice he faces is what to do about his mentor, Barack Obama’s foreign policies, which were rolled back and replaced by the Trump administration. Does he validate the Obama administration’s policy of applying severe pressure on Israel while supporting Iran and the Palestinians, or does he press ahead with President Donald Trump’s successful policies in the Middle East. Will Biden move forward or will he recreate the situation of four years ago?
Is it possible that Biden will continue Trump’s unrelenting pressure on Iran and reaffirm the pullout of the JCPOA, or will the pressure to validate Obama’s keystone triumph reduce the pressure and seek to renegotiate the treaty?
What will become of the Trump peace plan and the Abraham Accords linking the Sunni UAE and Bahrain to the State of Israel? If Biden and his team make the choice to validate and return to Obama’s Middle East foreign policy, what could be the possible results?
Nothing will scare the Sunni states like the reemergence of Shi’ite Iran as a stronger and more belligerent antagonist. With the pressure of the United States off, Iran will be freely able to purchase new modern weapons from Russia and China, who are only too anxious to keep the Middle East in turmoil.
Faced with a more potent and mischievous Iran, the Sunni states will be forced to move closer to Israel for protection. Saudi Arabia now turns out to be the poor cousin of the UAE and Bahrain. It is still in a quandary – indecisive as ever over what to do, while its train has left the station.
The Saudis, stuck between their self-image as protector of the Palestinians and mired in their medieval religious rejection of the Jews, could only watch as the UAE signed the treaty with Israel, received America’s blessing, the promise of modern weapons, a squadron of F35s, and security cooperation with Israel.
Now, with Biden and the Democrats in office, they may have missed their chance to save themselves. America is now energy self-sufficient leaving no threat that a Saudi cutback of oil will have any effect on the US.
The Democrats have made a show in Congress of vigorously attacking the Saudis over the death of the reporter Jamal Khashoggi, reviled them for playing a part in the war in Yemen and threatened to cut off American aid to the kingdom. The Saudi stock in the Democratic Party is at a new low.
On their own, the Saudis field only a paper military, equipped with billions in American equipment, but unable to defeat, or even push back, the Houthis in Yemen after publicly proclaiming their intention to restore the country to its previous government.
Will the Biden administration sell the Saudis F-35s and pledge full military and political support, or will the Democrats stick with their highly critical opinions and continue their attacks on the kingdom? The Saudis may be left with their only, if unpalatable choice, joining their fellow Sunni states in the Abraham pact with Israel – with or without American support.
What will happen to Israel? The new administration may advance the Obama policies of support for the Palestinians, return to the two-state solution, insist on freezing and even rolling back settlements, along with the absolute refusal to recognize any extension of sovereignty in the West Bank – all enforced by renegotiating or even refusing to stick with the Trump weapons and military aid agreements. The Biden administration may once again refuse support for Israel in the UN or other international bodies while throwing support to pro-Palestinian motions and attacks.
As a result, the Middle East, seething with unrest and fears, may form an Israeli-Sunni alliance to protect these fragile nations from the predators waiting to pounce. This will be the Trump Doctrine but without the United States!
The fuse is burning down and the nitroglycerin is set to explode in a very short time. Israel has proclaimed that Iran will never be allowed to produce nuclear weapons – and that day is very close at hand. Four years ago, this possibility seemed far off, but Iran has diligently upgraded its uranium refinement capabilities with more efficient centrifuges, built massive underground and inner-mountain laboratories and production facilities, and continued building and testing long-range rockets to carry nuclear warheads.
If Iran is set to become nuclear, Israel will be forced to attack, lighting a spark that will inflame the entire Middle East. Iran will lash out at Israel and the Sunni states. Hezbollah will fire off its arsenal of rockets, joined by Hamas.
To stop the rockets, Israel will have to blanket Lebanon and Gaza without considering civilian casualties. Surely, American installations and personnel will become prime targets whatever the administration’s stance on the issues. The American military will be force to respond.
This is exactly what Prof. Blumenson meant when he said, “War is not inevitable – it is about choices.” Joe Biden and his Democratic advisers have before them these heavy choices – choices that can result in maintaining an uneasy peace, or choices that can set events on the road toward a horrific scenario.
The writer is a former editor and publisher at U.S. News & World Report.