It is easy to overlook the underlying trend and what might broadly be described as the rivalry between democratic and authoritarian or totalitarian states.
It is an unarguable truism that any regime will appear to be strong and successful when an unusually capable person is at the head of it. Thus, Germany went from strength to strength when guided by Bismarck, the founder of the German Empire. But he was dismissed from his position by a man-child emperor who 24 years later plunged Europe into the greatest hecatomb in history up to that time—World War I—which, among other consequences, brought the German emperor’s Hohenzollern dynasty, which had been powerful for 400 years, to an abrupt end.
Prior to Bismarck and along with him, the greatest continental European statesman is generally reckoned to have been Cardinal Richelieu. He ruled France on behalf of King Louis XIII, and who made France the greatest power in Europe and endowed the country with an omnipotent centralized monarchy of great efficiency, even as he founded the French Academy and made the French language and culture the most influential in the world. The system that he built gradually deteriorated under his successors and finally blew up with a revolution, a reign of terror, a series of unhinged degraded regimes leading to the magnificent but ultimately unsuccessful coruscation of Napoleon.
It was a monument to the unique talents of Richelieu and of Bismarck that their successors could not adequately manage the system that they built and that when those systems fell, it shook the whole world.
The flip side of the dangers of a governmental system too dependent on extraordinarily capable statesmen to operate it is that a fundamentally sound political system can survive, and at times even be effective, when led by relatively mediocre holders of its great offices.
In the present challenges of the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, it is not just the independence of Ukraine and the right and ability of Israel not to be mortally threatened by pre-civilizational terrorists that are at stake. As always for the last 85 years, the ultimate determinant of the ability of the West to maintain its legitimate collective vital interests and defend democracy is the strength and purposeful determination of the United States. No objective evaluation could sustain the theory that the present U.S. administration is one distinguished for the vigour of its defence of American national interests or for its ability to galvanize and lead national opinion.
Whatever the validity of those arguments, it must be said with appreciation and respect that the United States has led the Western alliance in a very effective support of Ukraine. What could easily have become a spectacle of weakness of the West and the recovery of the largest single component lost by the Soviet Union when it disintegrated, and therefore a partial repeal of the West’s great and bloodless victory in the Cold War, has been transformed into a humiliating climbdown for the Kremlin.
After Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, the American administration recognized from the start the absolute right of Israel to defend itself and to respond to terrorist acts of an unspeakably revolting and provoking nature. In doing so, and in combining military assistance to Israel with humanitarian aid to the Palestinians—and despite running some risk of trying to make the whole Israeli response somewhat conditionalized on the fate of 300 hostages—the United States up to now has been resolute.
The governing Democratic Party will now have to face the consequences of having allowed the extremist, woke, anti-American forces promoted by American self-hating universities and teachers’ unions to capture and manipulate up to 30 percent of the rank-and-file of their Party. This is the opportunity of the serious members of the Democratic Party, the legitimate continuator of Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Stevenson, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson—and in their better moments, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—to reassert the strength and authority within that party of the sane and patriotic elements of continuity in it that could be traced back to its founders, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
Historians will debate the propriety of the current Democratic Party leadership succumbing to the temptation to turn a blind eye to the forces of American self-loathing in 2020, when these forces conducted riot and arson all summer—and excused it as “peaceful protesting”—over the appalling death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The chickens have come home to roost, and the administration will no longer be able to maintain this condition of political schizophrenia and profess to be a patriotic party of reform and continuity at the same time that it protects and coddles a riffraff of racist thugs and criminals.
In Ukraine as in Israel, the pattern of the administration has been to start with a modest level of assistance to the wronged party, but to escalate and stick with it. Whatever happens in Ukraine short of a now almost unimaginable collapse, Russia has been thoroughly humiliated, its forces depleted, and national morale profoundly shaken at a comparatively minimal cost to the West. It remains to produce an exit strategy, but this administration has generally produced what was needed at the last moment when it could be implemented.
Israel has to be given the time and support it needs to destroy those who would destroy it. The Palestinians could have had their own state, admittedly a small state—there are only about five million of them—at any time in the last 25 years. Their pretence to having some right, let alone ability, to expel, subjugate, or kill the Jews and transform all Israel into the state of their people that never governed anything there and is a tragic and shamefully misused catchment of miscellaneous Arabs who live in the region, manipulated by the Arab powers and more recently by Iran, is preposterous.
The Palestinians were effectively abandoned by Hezbollah this past week, and despite the customary withdrawals of ambassadors and other histrionics and pyrotechnics of the Arab governments, the so-called Palestinians are still just cannon fodder for the Israel-haters. This is a role recently occupied by Iran, although the entire history of Persia and of the recent Iran prior to the totalitarian theocracy that is there now was relatively philo-Semitic.
No one can reasonably expect the United States to get into the weeds of these ancient and intractable quarrels. The heartening fact is that even a very indifferent administration has gradually raised its game in Ukraine, and with the occasional wobble is staying the course in Israel, and in both places the West is likely to win—not from Bismarckian thunderbolts or the Machiavellian genius of Richelieu, but by the consistent and measured support of our natural and strategic allies.