Step back far enough, and you can see exactly what is driving so much geopolitics today: Ukraine is trying to join the West. Israel is trying to join a new Middle East. And Russia and Iran have teamed up to try to block both.
Unfortunately, the new G.O.P. House speaker, Mike Johnson, is either too inexperienced or too ideological (or both) to see this (or to care). He is pushing a budget that would help Israel better defend itself but would deprive Ukraine of essential U.S. economic and military assistance to beat back Russia’s onslaught.
And he’s conditioned even the $14.3 billion the administration wants to send to Israel on President Biden agreeing to strip the same amount from funds added for the Internal Revenue Service so it could better collect taxes from cheaters. (Attention, Israel lobby: Do not go along with that game. Next time, aid for Israel will be tied to extreme G.O.P. positions on abortion or guns.)
Thank goodness Johnson was not the speaker during World War II; he and his myopic members might have pressed to fund the war against the Germans in Europe but not against the Japanese in the Pacific. Or they would have agreed to Lend-Lease assistance for the allies only if President Franklin Roosevelt would eliminate the I.R.S. altogether. More guns, more butter, no taxes and two fronts.
If it sounds like an utterly incoherent worldview that would undermine the American global leadership that has shaped a world we’ve thrived in for the past century, it’s because it is. And if it feels as if House G.O.P. leaders are small thinkers in a big time, it’s because they are. They are shameless, shameful and dangerous. Please do our country a favor and audition for Fox News on some other issue.
Because this IS a big moment — comparable to 1945 or 1989.
If Ukraine is able to escape Russia’s grasp and eventually join NATO and the European Union — with its formidable army, agricultural exports and technology prowess — it would be a giant boost for a Europe whole and free. And if Israel can be maneuvered back to the bargaining table for a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority — to pave the way for normalization between the Jewish state and Saudi Arabia — it would be a huge boost for a new, more pluralistic Middle East built around Palestinians, other Arabs and Israelis focused on strengthening their people’s resilience for the future and not their resistance to each other and to the West.
If these tectonic shifts can happen, the post-post-Cold War world has a far greater chance to handle other global challenges, like climate change, than if these shifts are stymied.
But you don’t need to speak Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Russian or Ukrainian to understand that Iran-backed Hamas launched its war to stymie the Saudi-Israel normalization and prevent Tehran from being isolated, and that Vladimir Putin launched his war to stop Ukraine from expanding a Europe whole and free and prevent Moscow from being isolated.
Russia under Putin and Iran under its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have a lot in common, argued the Russia expert Leon Aron, the author of “” “Both leaders have nothing to offer their people other than quasi-religious wars which enable them to stay in power by keeping their countries either at war or primed for war,” he told me.
And both leaders are gunning for other countries whose aspirations are the antithesis of Russia’s and Iran’s poisonous core regime identities. “Ukraine proves that there can be a Slavic, Orthodox country, very close to Russia ethnically — yet free, democratic and thriving, with a Western political and economic orientation and not needing a state of war with the West or to be a police state like Belarus or a military dictatorship like Russia,” Aron said.
Meanwhile, normalization of relations between the Jewish state and Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, would very likely pave the way for normalization between Israel and the most populous Muslim country in the world, Indonesia, as well as Malaysia and maybe later even Pakistan. It would prove that Jews and Muslims aren’t destined to be forever in conflict and can revive the not always harmonious — but often harmonious — relations their communities enjoyed throughout much of history before the Palestinian conflict.
As I said, nothing would have isolated Iran more.
And Hamas knew that if Israel was able to normalize with Saudi Arabia on terms that would satisfy the more moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and bring it significant financial advantages and more legitimacy, the Hamas Gaza resistance-forever model would have been totally isolated. So Hamas launched this war knowing it would bring death and ruin not only to many Israelis but also to many more of its own innocent civilians. Disgusting. Iran knew the same.
All of this has created a huge opportunity for Putin. He welcomed a Hamas delegation to Moscow last week, and he has an expanding relationship with Iran underway; Iran is supplying Putin with drones and missiles to kill Ukrainians, in return for cybertechnologies, advanced aircraft and possibly antiaircraft equipment for Tehran. It’s a win-win-win for Putin. By helping Iran fuel the flames of a war between Israel and Iran’s Middle East proxies, Putin knows he is forcing the U.S. to send more spare parts, Patriot missiles and 155-millimeter artillery shells to Israel instead of to Ukraine. And if that flow of arms to Kyiv is then cut off by Johnson and the House G.O.P., all Putin needs to do is count the days until Donald Trump is re-elected and Ukraine is his — or so he probably assumes. Plus all the instability drives up oil prices!
While Republicans play dangerous games with military and economic aid, here are the two things that U.S. military officials tell me they are worried about: They believe that the Israelis want to take just Gaza City, where the core of Hamas military and manpower infrastructure is, and then use that as a launching pad for more tactical attacks on Hamas’s leadership and rocket launchers in the rest of Gaza — without occupying it all. But Israel’s military advance is already encountering a common challenge in urban warfare: You get stalled in the alleyways and then call in air power to blow away the enemy and anyone else nearby, leading to significant civilian casualties. The U.S. cannot ignore or defend that strategy for much longer, U.S. officials say.
Second, the U.S. still sees a giant hole in the heart of Israel’s strategy: Who will govern Gaza if and when Hamas is evicted? The only likely possibility is the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, in the West Bank. But the only way those Palestinian leaders will assume that role is if Israel permits their capabilities to grow — provided they get their act together — and if Israel is seen as advancing a two-state solution. But the current government of Benjamin Netanyahu is dedicated to annexing the West Bank.
So it looks as if Israel’s army is reoccupying Gaza to eventually turn it over to some kind of legitimate Palestinian Authority — while Israel’s extreme right-wing politicians and settlers are working overtime to delegitimize that authority and drive Palestinians out of the West Bank. This is a strategic contradiction. Israel actually needs a wartime peace process with the Palestinian Authority.
The cold hard truth is this: Israel cannot get out of Gaza and sustain Western support without a credible Palestinian partner to govern there, and Ukraine cannot sustain Western support unless it makes substantial gains against Putin’s army this winter or decides that’s impossible and agrees to some kind of dirty deal. That is, some kind of territorial compromise with Putin in return for a NATO security guarantee and a pathway to the European Union. No Western leaders are ready to say that out loud to Kyiv, but they all know it and believe it: Western support for Ukraine cannot and will not be there for an endless war of attrition.
That’s why today America must help Israel and Ukraine to blunt the Russia-Iran axis in their theaters. But the morning after their wars, Israel and Ukraine are going to have to face some very hard choices. Because while we may write big checks to both, they will not be blank checks. Each will come with an expiry date and require some very painful political decisions very soon — as they should.