Putin’s war against Ukraine is far from Tehran. But if the Biden administration hopes to deter Russia in Ukraine, and its growing alliance with China and Iran, it needs to move decisively against Iran’s nuclear assets—now.
The war in Europe and coming threat of a nuclear armed Iran is confronting the US with a stark reality: an emerging alliance of nuclear-armed states, including Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, whose atomic umbrella will stretch from NATO’s borders in Eastern Europe to the Asian Far East.
The Biden Administration does not yet realize that the ground has shifted under its feet—or it would be making corollary shifts, not more concessions to Iran. Instead, supporting a deal negotiated by Russia—one better than even Iran imagined, or so Russia brags—proves that the current administration is behind the times and dangerously wedded to ideas from a now-antiquated paradigm.
The original JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) was conceived and negotiated against a global alignment which no longer exists. We are in a new era, with new alignments and new divisions. This is why America cannot agree to such a deal. It would empower Russia and China to leverage Iran’s nuclear status against us while guaranteeing to Russia in writing that it can build 40 or more nuclear reactors in Iran. Such a deal is simply incompatible with the world we now inhabit.
Startling and rapid, these shifts mean the cooperative period of East–West relationship has reverted to one of Cold War-style threats and alliances, including dramatic realignment among four and potentially many as five anti-Western states armed with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. This growing nuclear threat simply isn’t tenable for the US. In response, the Biden administration should show the grit and determination necessary to finally launch military strikes against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. The US and its allies have dithered on this issue for far too long.
But strikes against Iran won’t just end a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. They will send a strong message of resolve from the US to our adversaries that will restore desperately-lacking American military deterrent power. This is vital for US national security.
Is there any indication that Putin is deterred by NATO or American warnings? To the contrary, Putin seems to be the one doing the deterring. Why else did the White House block the transfer of 28 MiG-29 fighters from Poland to Ukraine, which is pleading for them?
Given the Biden administration’s badly-engineered withdrawal from Afghanistan, its insincere and porous application of sanctions on Russia, failure to arm Ukraine adequately, and serial weakness in the face of Iran ballistic missile attacks on Americans and the capital cities of our Gulf allies, is it surprising that America and NATO’s willingness to go to war over former Soviet satellite states is deeply suspect in Moscow?
That is why the United States should act immediately and decisively to destroy Iran’s nuclear and military industrial complex. This will restore America’s credible military deterrent, prevent adventurism and a wider war in Europe. In the process, it will discourage reckless aggression in Asia, rhetorical or otherwise.
What currently deters Vladimir Putin from calling President Biden’s and NATO’s bluff over “1 inch” of territory? During any two-week NATO debate over invoking Article 5, Putin can take a 100 mile slice of Polish countryside or invade a Baltic state.
Far from being deterred, Iran’s Supreme Leader has already called the White House’s bluff. On March 13, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard launched a substantial ballistic missile attack targeting Erbil, near America’s new consulate in Kirkuk. This latest direct attack by Iran on American soldiers and civilians follows dozens of attacks by Iran and its proxies, which targeted US military bases plus population centers in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai. Tehran has de facto declared war on the United States and our Gulf allies.
Twenty years of talks with Iran regarding its illegal nuclear weapons programs have amounted to two decades of calculated deception—deception almost always shielded diplomatically by Russia and economically by China.
Since President Biden took office, Russia and China have increasingly overcome historic differences, forging deeper scientific, military, trade, financial and imperial leader-to-leader ties. Chinese state media has amplified false Russian bioweapon accusations against the US and spread Russia’s fallacious narrative of liberating Ukraine from Western aggression and phantom Nazis.
Concern about Putin’s state of mind is widespread among White House advisors and European military officials. The frustrated commander-in-Kremlin has put his nukes on alert. He told the West to stay the hell out. He has issued increasingly brazen threats against European and NATO states considering military aid, which are deterring these states from providing the help Ukraine needs. All this must be reversed.
President Biden has apparently grown fearful of providing Putin a “pretext” to involve a NATO state in Putin’s war. So, suddenly Poland was out of line for offering planes to Ukraine—in a swap Secretary of State Blinken suggested on a weekend was underway, until the White House was “shocked” by the very idea on Monday.
If the President wants to avoid wider war in Europe and deter the naked aggression that threatens global systems—those ensuring free and fair trade, borders, open seas, and respect for human dignity—we must act to destroy Iran’s nuclear and military industrial capability, restoring our deterrent credibility and taking away from Russia and China the ability to align with a nuclear Iran against the West.
In the US, as of early April 2022, the national average price for gas remains over $4 and spikes over $5 in places. Saudi Arabia and the UAE were incensed with the White House’s wildly nonchalant reaction to Iranian proxies firing ballistic missiles into their cities over the past few months. Understandably, Gulf leaders were unavailable for a call with President Biden about increased oil output amid the Ukraine crisis.
Acting now to eliminate the Iranian nuclear military-industrial complex would remind the world’s other leading powers that the United States still maintains red lines which cannot be crossed. It would also restore some confidence in the Gulf and go a long way toward reducing the price of gas at the pump.
Josh Block is a foreign policy fellow at the Hudson Institute and worked for the Clinton administration at USAID.
Ukraine’s right to democracy, freedom, and self-determination is threatened by conflicts over energy and food economics. In an interdependent world, President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, has determined that blatant warfare is more desirable than peaceful trade negotiations. He is intent on Russia controlling Ukraine’s mineral resources and agricultural land. The Russian people are protesting this war, recognizing the rights of their Ukrainian brothers over Putin’s financial greed.
This is not the first time Russia has sought to leverage Ukraine’s resources for its own purposes. Josef Stalin, during the wider Soviet famine of the early 1930s, systematically starved the Ukrainian population for the ostensible benefit of Soviet Russian workers—a near genocide now known as the Holodomor—death by hunger.
What does Russia gain from an all-out assault on Ukraine? The war traces its roots to the 2021 suspension of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline built by Gazprom, the Russian natural gas company, because of its failure to comply with the EU’s anti-competitive laws. The new pipeline would have doubled Germany’s energy resources from Russia through the Baltic Sea in exchange for exported German technology—bypassing Ukraine and the need to pay transit fees. Once operational, however, Germany would have been dependent on Russia for up to 70 percent of the country’s natural gas needs; the European Union (EU) currently receives nearly 40 percent of its gas from Russia.
If completed, Nord Stream 2, together with the Nord Stream 1 pipeline (2011) from Russia to Germany and the southern pipeline in the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey (TurkStream, 2020) would divert natural gas away from transit pipelines in the Ukraine to the EU. Ukraine’s ten–year gas contract with Gazprom expired in 2019. The US imposed sanctions in 2019 to initially stall the construction of Nord Stream 2, forcing Gazprom to extend Ukraine’s agreement by five years. Although sanctions were waived by the US in 2021, Germany stalled project certification in late 2021 to review compliance concerns with EU laws. Gazprom retaliated by reducing Ukrainian annual gas transit flows to the EU. As a result, natural gas prices in the EU have risen by 125 percent over the past six months and will rise further in the near future.
There are significant energy resource implications in the invasion of the eastern Russian-separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as well as in Ukraine’s surrounding border regions. Donetsk and Luhansk are home to some of the largest coal and natural gas deposits. Luhansk is a key entry point for the Soyuz pipeline carrying Russian gas through Ukraine to the Balkan and southeastern European nations. Were these provinces to split off into independent states, Ukraine would lose future revenues while Russia gained access to significant mineral resources.
If Russian forces succeed in holding the city of Kharkiv, northwest of Luhansk province, troops could move into Ukraine’s interior. Not only are significant natural gas and coal deposits in production along this corridor, but enormous amounts of potential deposits still exist throughout the Donets coal region and the Dneiper-Donets oil and gas basin. As Russia increases gas prices, the EU could shift to using lower-cost and easily available coal. But if Russia controls the coal basin, Putin could threaten the EU with pricing pressure on this resource.
EU countries are currently maintaining-lower-than normal natural gas reserves, at an average 31 percent below capacity for this time of year, roughly half that of 2020. To increase supplies, the EU needs to diversify resources by increasing liquified natural gas (LNG) from the US and Qatar, while maximizing pipeline flows from Algeria, Azerbaijan, and Norway. Natural gas must be cooled to a minus 260 degrees to be condensed into liquid form for storage, then shipped to specifically designed seaport centers. This dynamic is already raising energy prices on the world markets and the US stands to gain from LNG exports.
Along with coal, the EU might shift to using alternative energy and nuclear power. Ukraine has one of the largest deposits of uranium in the world, which is at risk for takeover by Russia. Coal use will challenge the continent’s timeline for meeting future climate targets. Alternative energy resources will not meet all the EU’s needs. Natural gas remains the most cost-effective short term transition option and is not likely to disappear in the near future.
Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe. Seventy percent of the country’s land is utilized for growing wheat, corn, barley, and sunflower seeds, with its largest agricultural exports shipped to Egypt and Turkey. The entire region east of the Dneiper River is used for farming. The river traverses central Ukraine, beginning north of Kyiv and running southeast then southwest toward the Black Sea port cities of Kherson and Odessa. Should Russia gain access to this land, grain export prices will rise, as they already have done, and Russia can threaten political extortion against Turkey and Egypt. More important, if the Russians take over Kyiv, they will almost certainly install a puppet government, as in Belarus, making incursions beyond Ukraine possible.
Russian battleships and forces are now targeting the southern seaport cities of Odessa and Kherson, as well as additional agricultural land to the north of the Crimean Peninsula. When Russia annexed the Peninsula in 2014, the country gained control of maritime corridors for completion of the Black Sea pipeline system to Turkey and the EU. Russia also gained access to promising oil and natural gas deposits in the Black Sea off the coast of the peninsula.
The EU’s aggressive economic sanctions against Russia are reinforcing new Russian alliances with China as Russia seeks energy markets outside the EU. Gazprom recently signed a 30–year natural gas agreement to double current exports to China via Russia’s newest “Power of Siberia” pipeline. These two countries have also signed a long-term agreement for Russia to provide 100 million tons of coal.
The EU and NATO were initially weak in their support of Ukrainian defenses. European nations feared Russian retaliation as their economies depend on trade with Russia. Not being part of NATO, Ukraine was forced to fight alone. If the US military becomes directly involved, this would be viewed as an act of war against Russia. Fortunately, as the conflict escalated, the US and the EU acted quickly, leveraging economic sanctions against Russian banks, oligarchs, and technology while sending more defense equipment to the region.
Showing weakness or silence when one country is invaded for its economic resources is a threat to the values of freedom and self-determination for every country in Europe. An autocrat like Putin understands military strength and NATO’s unwillingness to commit defense resources demonstrates weakness. Only recently has NATO been willing to send significant military equipment and aircraft to assist the Ukrainian people. As Putin places Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces on high alert, the continent—and the world—are on notice that another World War is again possible.
Cultural ethicist Faye Lincoln is the author of Values That Shape the World: Ancient Precepts, Modern Concepts (Dialog Press, 2021). She analyzes the values-based implications of US and Middle Eastern policies based on history, religion, economics, and public policy.
I am standing in the kitchen laboring over a Middle Eastern salad when my thoughts drift to Nina. “No one ever cooks for me,” she once said with genuine surprise in her voice. “I always do the cooking for everyone else, but no one does it for me.” I miss those light, easy conversational moments. Nina had said that to me once when I told her I was making a special dish for her, but that was a long time ago. It seems longer than that when I look in the next room and see my teenage daughter reading, the evening sun backlighting her adult frame through the large window. Nina died almost fifteen years ago, when my daughter was just a few months old. I wrote the following shortly after her death:
I lost a friend this week. As I write, I’m having a hard time seeing through the tears.
A recipe for beef stew angles out of the top of my notebook. I printed it out and put it there to make for Nina sometime in the coming weeks. She wasn’t just a friend. She was like a mother to me. We were going to take my newborn daughter for a visit and I was going to make one of her favorite dishes, the stew, as a surprise. She jovially said that she always cooked for everyone else but no one ever cooked for her. Heartbroken, I reach up, take it out of the notebook, fold it and slip it into the trash.
We’d been friends for more than 15 years. I first met Nina when I was a freshman in college. We worked together in the maintenance department cleaning toilets and scrubbing gym showers, only she didn’t deserve that. She was a world-class cook and had been the manager of a prominent restaurant in Russia before coming to the United States. She barely spoke English, but we became fast friends soon after she discovered I was lacking family of my own. We began to communicate as best as we could and developed a knack for understanding each other.
I’ll never forget our meetings in the maintenance closet while we were working. It was the size of a broom closet and you could barely fit two folding chairs in it. She would look at me and smile, “Please, come to my office.” On our break we would sit, ignoring the dirty mop water in the corner, and drink tea and eat some sort of food she had prepared and sometimes fine Russian chocolates that she only got out for special occasions.
Sometimes I can still smell the damp mop in the closet when I think back to those moments and the inspiring conversations. But it didn’t matter.
It was in those times that we got to know one another and quickly became close friends. She took me to her home. She introduced me to her family. They treated me like one of their own. She called me her American daughter. Her children called me their American sister. She adopted me as one of her own.
She taught me the Cyrillic alphabet and began to teach me the Russian language. We spent many Sunday afternoons on the back porch of her home with her family—her husband and all eight children—studying for their citizenship test.
It was in these times and many more too numerous to mention that our friendship flourished. Nina taught me so much. One of the biggest lessons was on true faith. Her family was tortured for their belief in God under the regime of Communist Russia. She lived her faith—believing in God and trusting him—even while the Communist government banged on her door demanding that she betray God and her husband while he was imprisoned for his faith. She didn’t eat for weeks, boldly demanding that the government release her husband from prison. She taught me—and so many countless others—with her life.
Nina was an amazing woman. I don’t know why she loved me so much, but I feel so privileged to have been a part of her life. When I graduated from college, she truly understood—perhaps more than anyone else—what it took to get to that day. After the graduation ceremony, she threw a Russian-style party with all the food, friends, family and warmth imaginable. She was my mentor and my friend.
Nina came to my baby shower just weeks before the birth of my daughter. She gave me one of my most meaningful gifts. It’s a frame that says, “My Grandma Loves Me.”
She was there at the hospital when my daughter was born. I have a picture of Nina holding her. You can see the love for my daughter in her eyes. It’s the picture that will go in the frame. It will be a reminder to me and proof for my daughter how much her Russian Grandma loved her.
Even though my daughter will never get to know her, at least she got to meet her. I commit to sharing Nina’s legacy with her. I just wish she could have had a chance to experience it for herself.
We had so many plans. She was going to teach my daughter the Russian language. We were going to get together every week. She was going to be such a large part of my daughter’s life. I just wish there had been more time. There’s just never enough time.
There is indeed never enough time. I continue chopping the parsley. My thoughts drift to the long, lazy Sunday afternoons spent on Nina’s covered back porch. We drank the good tea and spoke deeply for hours about life—past and present—and what it meant for the future. The days always ended in nourishment of both body and spirit. Fifteen years later, the value of even just one replicated Sunday afternoon with Nina cannot be adequately stated.
I think of her often and her photo reminds me daily of her influence in my life. My daughter has it in her room to this day. My younger son understands its meaning. Nina died before he was born, but I know she would have loved him too, and looked at him the same way she looked at my daughter. Her husband, Vitaliy, pastored a Slavic church in Tennessee for 23 years and prayed a blessing over my son and dedicated him to God the same way he did for my daughter.
Vitaliy was born in the USSR and he, along with Nina and their family, immigrated to the United States in 1988. In the USSR, Vitaliy was persecuted, tortured, and imprisoned by the KGB for fighting to bring freedom to the persecuted church. He died on February 27, 2020, and his obituary states it best: “His desire was to go to a country where he could worship God freely with his family. Vitaliy considered it the greatest blessing and gift from God to live and raise his family in America.”
I ponder this and think perhaps neither Nina’s heart nor Vitaliy’s could have withstood where the country in which they found solace—including Canada, and their relatives there—is heading. The things they spoke of and escaped from are now rising to take hold of the West.
Over the years, my daughter has asked me about the photo of Nina in her room, and each time I give her more and more age-appropriate details. Lately, the talks have been a bit more profound given what is now transpiring in the United States and in the world. “Nina was wise beyond her years,” I say. “She lived it. She understood so much more because she and her family lived it.” I share Nina’s story, and the deeper, spiritual things. She’s ready now.
Nina was right. I don’t think I fully understood just how right she was about the events she predicted were coming to America and the West. Thump. Thump. Thump. The sound of the knife repeatedly on the cutting board … the parsley, the mint … just how much did she know? How did she know? Russia, her country of origin is on the brink of war. Ukraine. We had so many talks about Ukraine after my return from a time of study and teaching there. The region appears to be heading toward an attempt at a superior version of the former USSR, the very place Nina and her family sought refuge from. China, Iran, and Israel. You spoke so often about Israel and what was to come. You spoke of things fifteen years ago that are currently unfolding today. Your heart became weak and began to fail you. I am sure if it had not happened then, then surely now, given all that’s happened and all that continues … I miss your wisdom so dearly and I ache for our conversations … but I am glad you don’t have to live through this again … I fold the ingredients carefully.
No one made salads like Nina. She was a masterful chef and would have enjoyed this one. She used ingredients she so proudly grew in her garden—on her land—in America. I often noticed her calloused hands, hands that had labored, nurtured, and carried more than was natural for any one person. She would work in the garden all day, laboring in the intense Tennessee heat. “They say it’s our land, but it’s not our land. They can come get it whenever they want to,” she told a disbelieving, naïve and youthful me. I know now she was right, and spoke out of both experience and a knowledge of the world that comes only through suffering and experience.
The salad is almost prepared. I wish I could share it with Nina. She would be proud, I think. I hope. My heart longs for another Sunday afternoon with her, together, with our families, raising a glass, sharing a meal, sharing heart to heart—with the good tea, tracing the sun from high in the sky to the tip of the horizon, ending with consummate nourishment of body and spirit.
Those were the days … these are the days. Fifteen years ago … these are the moments.
Holly Abernathy is a communications and creative arts professional. She works in a variety of media and lives in Nashville, Tennessee. For more information, visit www.6qCreative.com.
Many consider the Biden administration’s oft-expressed intent to open a US consulate-general in Jerusalem a minor administrative change. In fact, it is a dangerous resurrection of a fiction that dominated American attitudes and policy toward Israel for decades.
It is nothing less than a devious scheme to reverse US recognition that Jerusalem is in Israel by pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to abandon Israel’s claim to sovereignty over its own capital city. If Bennett acquiesces to US pressure, he will go down in history as the Israeli leader who gave away Jerusalem.
In May 1948, President Harry Truman was the first world leader to recognize the modern State of Israel, only 11 minutes after its creation. But for the following 70 years, successive US presidential administrations steadfastly refused to formally recognize the City of Jerusalem as being in the State of Israel. It took us 18 years of pro bono litigation, with two appearances before the US Supreme Court and working with the prior administration, to overturn the State Department’s long-running position. That position had effectively treated as stateless thousands of American citizens born in Jerusalem.
We began representing Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky soon after he was born in Jerusalem. His American-born parents sought for him what most people take for granted—the right to list his country of birth on his American identity papers. That right was denied to him for almost two decades. His government-issued American birth certificate left blank the space for his country of birth. Although US passports routinely designate the country of a foreign-born passport-holder’s birth, Menachem’s listed “Jerusalem” instead of “Israel”—as if the City of Jerusalem was not actually in any country.Congress had overwhelmingly endorsed Israel’s assertion of sovereign jurisdiction over Jerusalem in the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. Nonetheless, Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama—yielding to the State Department’s Arabist contingent—overrode Congress’s decision with various baseless “findings.” They continued to deny that any portion of the city (neither “West” nor “East” Jerusalem) was actually in Israel. This led to confusion and embarrassment.
In September 2016, President Obama delivered a eulogy at the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres. The funeral was held on Mt. Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery—a location comparable to Arlington National Cemetery in the United States. The White House published the president’s remarks with the tagline: “Mt. Herzl, Jerusalem, Israel.” Hours later, the White House issued a “corrected” version of President Obama’s remarks with only a single “correction”—a line strike-through the word “Israel.” American foreign policy thus viewed the distinguished cemetery on Mt. Herzl—which has been under Israel’s sovereign control since the modern Jewish state was established in 1948—as not being located in Israel.
The State Department did not apply this policy even-handedly. Opponents of Israel born before 1948 could, if they chose, designate on their passports “Palestine” as their place of birth, as if the Jewish State had never been created. Those born in Tel Aviv or Haifa who were unhappy to see “Israel” on their US passports were entitled to substitute the city in which they were born for the country. Only American citizens born in Jerusalem were denied this choice of individual identification.The Supreme Court concluded our marathon lawsuit for Menachem Zivotofsky with a definitive ruling giving the president sole and exclusive constitutional authority to recognize foreign governments and their boundaries, including the location of cities. While the Court’s 2015 decision looked like a defeat, it actually turned into a triumph when, in December 2017, the previous US administration formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In May 2018, the US embassy was relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, rendering the Jerusalem consulate superfluous. Up until that time, pursuant to the US fiction that treated Jerusalem as a city outside Israel, the US consul-general in Jerusalem reported directly to the State Department—as if he were reporting from a location not in Israel. All this changed when the US administration recognized Jerusalem as not only being in Israel but as Israel’s capital, thereby merging the consulate and the embassy. The building on David Flusser Street in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem that had housed the US consulate was converted into the new US embassy. The operations that had been conducted there and at the annex on Agron Street in downtown Jerusalem were brought under the auspices of the embassy, thus finally achieving full legal compliance with the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995.
The Proclamation recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel opens with the following words: “The foreign policy of the United States is grounded in principled realism, which begins with an honest acknowledgment of plain facts.” It took nearly seven decades for the United States to formally recognize the “plain fact” that Jerusalem is located in the State of Israel. Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and consolidating the operations of the Jerusalem consulate and the US embassy followed directly from that “plain fact.” In further recognition of that “plain fact,” the State Department changed its passport policy in October 2020 to finally provide American citizens born in Jerusalem with what they, and our client, had fought for—the right to list “Israel” as their country of birth.
The consular and diplomatic services that have been offered since 1844 by the Jerusalem consulate are currently available for everyone to access in the US embassy in Jerusalem. If the Biden administration wishes to make these services more accessible to Palestinians, a consulate could be opened in Ramallah, near the government headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, under the auspices of the US embassy operating in Israel’s capital. But there is no practical reason to now open a separate consulate in Jerusalem.
This is not about dividing Jerusalem. It is about denying Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem. The American diplomats who conduct the embassy’s Palestinian Affairs Unit currently have their office in the heart of West Jerusalem on Agron Street, an area that has been under Israel’s control since 1948. If the Biden administration converts the Agron Street complex or any location in Jerusalem into a de facto embassy to the Palestinian Authority, complete with a consul-general who reports not to the US ambassador but directly to the State Department, America would be resurrecting from the grave a dangerous fabrication that it finally buried three years ago.
America, in short, would yet again be proclaiming to the world that Jerusalem, including West Jerusalem, is not part of the sovereign State of Israel. The new administration should not make this mistake.
The views expressed in this article are the writers’ own.
Nathan Lewin and Alyza D. Lewin are Washington, DC attorneys who litigated the Zivotofsky passport case pro-bono for 18 years (twice to the US Supreme Court) in order that Jerusalem-born American citizens could list “Israel” as their place of birth.
For the sake of ending a 20-year war, the demise of Afghanistan’s democracy and the tragedy of lives lost is the gravest of all failings on the part of the US. By negotiating troop withdrawals with the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist group that harbored al-Qaeda during the 9/11 attacks, America failed in preserving the value of peace. Instead, it is increasing the chances of war in the region. The implications for Israel might be stunning.
The advance announcements of deadline dates for troop withdrawals allowed the Taliban to plan and strengthen their capabilities. Removing military forces from Afghanistan became the top priority, leaving little protection in the country to safely bring home those remaining American citizens. US leaders did not provide advance notice to NATO coalition partners of its final evacuation plans. As a result, ISIS-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), the Islamic State’s arm in Afghanistan, killed 13 US service members and over 90 Afghan citizens in a suicide attack at Hamid Karzai airport in Kabul. In its haste to leave the country, America failed to uphold a key value—protecting one’s own.
America lost control of the timely withdrawal of vulnerable Afghan citizens who had supported its efforts over the years. US government officials provided the Taliban with identifying biometric data and the published names of people who were approved to leave the country. Functionally, America handed these Afghans a death sentence. ISIS-K and the Taliban can vie for which terrorist group can execute these citizens in the future. By abandoning the Afghan people, America failed to uphold an indispensable value—preserving life.
In allowing the Taliban regime to attain power, the US essentially approved the destruction of democratic rule. Did America think that this authoritarian group had reformed its prior extremist ideals? The Taliban’s current sources of income come from sales of illegal drugs and payments from insurgent groups in other countries, such as Pakistan. The rise of corruption and the disappearance of democracy has vanquished our most basic values—justice and freedom.
The Taliban will undoubtedly decimate the education and work of women who by their talents strengthen their families and support the nation economically. Women will become re-oppressed. The Taliban stated publicly that they will evaluate and protect their status. But they demand that women be bound by Sharia, which when strictly adhered to subjugates women. Our key values of human rights and education for all will be lost.
The US leaves behind state-of-the-art military equipment and aircraft, a treasure trove for the inevitable rise of ISIS-K and the re-emergence of al-Qaeda. Irrespective of international monetary norms, to raise additional funds, unused equipment will be sold to other radical groups in the region and beyond, including Hamas and Iran’s radical proxy Hezbollah. Senior Hamas and Taliban officials have already met. Afghanistan will now become a Khyber pass on steroids. Where the goal had been to remove violent fundamentalist regimes from Afghanistan, terrorism will rise up once again and spread its tentacles into the Middle East. Now that the US is out and the Taliban are in, Afghanistan’s neighbor to the east, Iran, is already establishing a sphere of influence.
The demise of Afghanistan’s democracy exposes two underlying weaknesses in America’s strategic approach. First, there is a tendency to view democracy through the lens of western eyes, imposing this model as the best for other nations. Second, a failure to strengthen economic growth and infrastructure for its people undermines the survival of democratic forms of government.
Since 2004, Afghanistan has participated in traditional exercises of democracy. They held elections for President, created a representative bicameral National Assembly, and elevated a civil—not Sharia—Supreme Court. The Afghan National Army, 300,000 strong, lost the will to fight the Taliban without American air support and intelligence. Democracy fell within days of the Taliban takeover and Ashraf Ghani, president since 2014, quickly fled the country. We violated our promise, thereby shattering the values that makes our word inviolable.
Historians know that economic prosperity must be established before democracy can flourish. After World War II, the allied nations assisted Germany and Japan in building long term economic infrastructures which in turn underpinned democratic governments. In 2000, the democracy of the Soviet Union shifted to a more authoritarian form of leadership under Vladimir Putin because the country’s economic infrastructure had failed to support the people’s needs.
Applying the value of economic liberty to Afghanistan, we see that no long-term, self-sustaining plan had ever been established. Economic chaos is virtually assured because Washington has frozen Afghan assets totaling $9.5 billion. At the same time, the IMF and the World Bank have also blocked the Taliban from obtaining funds. The country is also dealing with the COVID pandemic. Banks have run out of cash and inflation is on the rise because of food, goods, and medical supply shortages. As an agricultural society with a large government sector, the nation is both impoverished and dependent on foreign aid. All this assures unwanted economic outcomes. The Taliban will increase criminal activity including the drug trade, sell weapons to the highest bidder, and partner with China, Iran and Russia.
Ironically, the country is sitting on $1 trillion worth of minerals. These include lithium, iron, copper, gold, precious gems, and natural gas. Lithium is one of the most valuable metals in the world today, used in rechargeable batteries for electric cars and alternative energy sources. Any goal established by countries to reduce climate change through reducing carbon emissions cannot be met as there is not enough lithium available to be mined throughout the world—until now. Abandoning our values in Afghanistan has seriously undermined our hope of developing a new source of precious raw materials and creating a post-carbon world in the process.
The US has known about Afghanistan’s trove of natural resources since 2010. But a poor economic platform has created a non-functional national infrastructure, making. these minerals are currently inaccessible. Could the US not have facilitated development in this area, bringing Afghanistan closer to economic self-sufficiency? Economic opportunity combats religious extremism. Could America not have partnered with other nations to help build this country’s infrastructure and wealth, to benefit the Afghan people? This might have strengthened the institution of democracy for the future. But we did not.
Now, the Chinese are poised to fund construction and infrastructure projects, and Beijing will gain access to Afghanistan’s minerals and resources. This is a well-honed Chinese tactic. It does the same with other nations, such as Iran which is desperate to sell its oil. Through China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the Chinese Communist Party will seek to build a connecting highway between Peshawar in Pakistan and Kabul that will integrate western China with Central Asia. Such broad infrastructure development projects in impoverished nations are funded through the Chinese-controlled Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. No one in Washington thought ahead.
In Afghanistan, we have created a void that will allow fundamentalism, violence, and poverty to grow further in the Islamic world and eventually the greater Middle East. Emerging wealth will go to the militant Taliban, as well as the Chinese, while the freedom-loving people of that nation are left out and forgotten. America’s foreign policy is politically swayed by the expedience of public opinion—not our values. If we measure the end of this war by the values of preservation of life, justice through democracy, and peace from economic trade, America has failed on all counts.
Afghanistan has been lost, mainly because we abandoned our values. The American-Israel relationship is built on shared values—but if the US can so easily abandon theirs, it does not portend well for Israel.
Cultural ethicist Faye Lincoln is author of Values That Shape the World: Ancient Precepts, Modern Concepts (Dialog Press, 2021). She analyzes the values-based implications of US and Middle Eastern policy initiatives based on history, religion, and economics.
Try painting a swastika on the wall of a synagogue, and you’ll be arrested and charged with vandalism and probably serve jail time for a hate crime. But a federal appellate court has just gone out of its way to grant constitutional protection to signs bellowing “Resist Jewish Power” and “Jewish Power Corrupts” at Jews attending synagogue services every Sabbath morning for the past 18 years in Ann Arbor, Mich. The judges didn’t bother to explain why menacing Jewish Americans coming together to worship is less intimidating than cross—burnings were to church attendees in African—American churches in the South. The Supreme Court said in 2003 (Virginia v. Black) that “cross burning carried out with the intent to intimidate is … proscribable under the First Amendment.” No sane American thinks otherwise today.
A decision rendered by three federal judges on the eve of Yom Kippur should send shivers down the collective spines of the American Jewish community. Since September 2003, a group of Ann Arbor residents has been harassing Jewish attendees at Saturday—morning services in Beth Israel Synagogue, a Conservative congregation, by gathering between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m., and posting 18 to 20 aggressive signs on grass near and opposite the synagogue. The signs challenge “Jewish Power,” and attack Israel as “apartheid” and as responsible for a “Palestinian holocaust.” They demand a boycott of Israel and an end to U.S. aid to Israel. But their timing and location demonstrate that they address Jews coming for religious observance, whether or not they support Israel. It takes only a rudimentary knowledge of history to recall that the Third Reich began a program that murdered millions with similar harangues against the Jewish religion by hostile hordes at the doors of Jewish synagogues.
Beth Israel’s members suffered these meticulously timed taunts and the city’s refusal to prevent them for years, but finally took their tormentors to federal court with a complaint alleging 13 violations of federal law and 10 violations of state law. They encountered a district court judge who, they later alleged, should have been disqualified because she “had pre—determined the outcome of the lawsuit.” The judge brusquely dismissed the congregants’ lawsuit on the ground that they experienced only “intangible injury,” such as “extreme emotional distress.” This harm, she said, was not “concrete” enough to give them “standing” to file a lawsuit in a federal court.
The Jews took their case to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The only issue for appeal was the trial judge’s ruling aborting their claims at birth because they had no “standing.” They also asked that the district judge be disqualified from the case if the appellate court agreed that they had “standing” to pursue their claims. The American Civil Liberties Union entered as an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) to teach the judges that gathering when the Jews came to worship on Saturday mornings and posting hostile signs while the worshippers were arriving and during their religious services was protected as Free Speech by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The three judges assigned to hear the appeal included the Sixth Circuit’s Chief Judge, Jeffrey Sutton, a former law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia and visiting lecturer at Harvard Law School. Judge Sutton is widely respected among lawyers. He was a frequent oral advocate in the Supreme Court before assuming judicial robes. Among his most successful presentations to the High Court was his winning argument that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—enacted by an almost unanimous Congress to protect religious liberty—was unconstitutional.
The first seven pages of a 13—page majority opinion written by Sutton and joined by a retired Circuit Judge conclude persuasively that the Jewish congregants have “standing” to pursue their claim. That should have ended the appeal in the congregants’ favor. But rather than sending the case back for a trial before an impartial judge, Sutton proceeds in the last five pages of his opinion to throw out all claims on the ground that “the content and form of the protests demonstrate that they concern public matters: American—Israeli relations.” The Saturday—morning gatherings and the aggressive posters are, in his opinion, “squarely within First Amendment protections of public discourse in public fora” and are shielded by “the robust protections that the First Amendment affords to nonviolent protests on matters of public concern.” He then dispatches the arguments to the contrary with blinding speed.
This is a frightening phenomenon in today’s America. The voracious wolf of rank Jew—hatred is cloaked in the sheep’s fleece of “American—Israeli relations.” Why do Ann Arbor’s anti—Israel zealots find it most meaningful to express their “public discourse in public fora” on Saturday mornings between 9:30 and 11:30 adjacent to a synagogue? Is this truly “public discourse” on “matters of public concern?” Are those who gather for two hours on Saturday mornings really trying to persuade the Jewish congregants with their placards? Or are they harassing and intimidating a religious minority that has suffered centuries of intolerance and hatred?
With all respect to Chief Judge Sutton’s legal acumen, there are solid reasons in federal and Michigan law to sustain the Jewish worshippers’ claim that gatherings and placards designed to harass and intimidate Jewish worshippers are not shielded by the Constitution. Even Sutton acknowledges in his cursory review of the complaint that the claims cannot be called “frivolous.”
Federal law gives the Jewish congregants only until Sept. 29, when Jews around the world will be celebrating Simchat Torah, to file a request with the Sixth Circuit to have the appeal considered anew by the full court of 16 active Circuit Judges (along with the senior judge who agreed with Sutton and is entitled under federal law to sit on a rehearing). Six of the Sixth Circuit’s current judges were appointed by President Donald Trump and four by President George W. Bush. They, along with the court’s only active Jewish judge, may disagree with Sutton’s summary rejection of the plaintiffs’ 23 legal claims. If the appeal is reheard, the court may hear and learn from many more friends of the court than the ACLU, which was the only amicus curiae in the argument before three judges that looked like only a technical legal dispute over “standing.”
William L. Shirer, author of the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, was the most authoritative eyewitness and reporter of life in Germany in the years leading to the Holocaust. He kept a daily personal journal that was published in 1941 titled Berlin Diary. A telling entry is April 21, 1935, which was Easter Sunday and Passover. Shirer noted that he took the weekend off, and he reported, “The hotel mainly filled with Jews and we are a little surprised to see so many of them still prospering and apparently unafraid. I think they are unduly optimistic.”
How right he was. Less than five months later, the Nazis formally codified Jew—hatred with the Nuremberg Laws, which deprived Germany’s Jews of citizenship and all basic human rights.
Action is needed now if we learn the lesson of history. The late Todd Beamer said it in a heroic effort on the hijacked Flight 93 to avert another 9/11 tragedy, “OK. Let’s roll.”
Nathan Lewin is a criminal defense attorney with a Supreme Court practice who has taught at Georgetown, Harvard, University of Chicago, George Washington and Columbia law schools.
America’s precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan spawned a new humanitarian crisis. As the Taliban rebrands the country they captured with nary a fight—the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan—desperate people are trying to flee, even to neighboring countries already struggling with their own crises. Afghan parents fear for their daughters, suddenly degraded as war bounty for Taliban fighters. Those who cooperated with the United States over the past two decades are already being hunted down and hung. Religious minorities know they will have no rights for religious expression in the new Islamic Emirate.These painful events evoke nightmarish memories of all that transpired in Iraq when in 2011 the .S decided to withdraw its military. Three years later it rushed back to combat the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world—the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS or DAESH. What transpired devastated innocent minorities.Iraq is the ancestral land of two Indigenous peoples: the Yazidis and Iraq’s Christians, the Assyrians. These two groups lived peacefully for most of their history in the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. That peace and their futures were ripped asunder by the conquering ISIS “caliphate.”
ISIS’s genocide of Yazidis and Assyrians accelerated the near eradication of Iraq’s Christian communities. Christians numbered an estimated 1.5 million before 2003. Now about 150,000 remain in the country. Murder, rape, kidnapping, and wholesale destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, houses of worship, and basic modern infrastructure has brought them to the edge of total annihilation.
Today, some have returned to try to reclaim their lives by rebuilding their cities and towns. Still, there is no erasing traumatic memories of beheadings, stabbings, and rape that haunt the Assyrian people. Many others, who have fled the country with the hope of reaching a western democracy, still live in abject conditions in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.
Since 2014, more than 150,000 Yazidis have fled Iraq. As of today, there are more than 2,700 Yazidis, mostly women and children, still missing; and only 30 percent of Yazidis have returned to their homes. Many others who returned to the Sinjar region still languish in refugee camps. Without question, minorities’ areas in Iraq’s Sinjar and the Nineveh Plains would be among the first targets of a resurgent ISIS or other terror group.
An ISIS comeback is a real possibility. There have been isolated ISIS activities in Iraq since 2019. In recent months, ISIS has become more organized, with attacks on checkpoints, kidnappings. and assassinations on the rise.
Given the past cooperation of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda (out of which ISIS grew), the fall of Afghanistan has been sparked with fear and dread of more butchery on the horizon—attacks that neither Assyrians nor Yazidis can repel.
During his address to the nation after the fall of Kabul, President Joe Biden declared that he will maintain a laser focus on the activities of these terrorist groups and take swift and effective action against them, wherever they may operate in the Middle East or Africa. However, during a recent meeting in the Oval Office, President Biden informed Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi that the US would not launch combat missions by the end of this year noting that, “Our role in Iraq will be … to be available, to continue to train, to assist, to help, and to deal with ISIS as it arises.”
Those of us who have been working on the frontlines witnessing the suffering of the victims of the earlier ISIS genocide are deeply worried. If the US watched as the Taliban took over Afghanistan in under a week, can our devastated communities trust President Biden that the US and her allies will protect our remnants?
One Assyrian man named Stefan, who courageously returned to his town of Qaraqosh to try rebuild his shattered life, put it bluntly, “One more attack [against our people] and it will be the end of us in this country. We cannot afford losing US presence from Iraq.”
After the fall of Kabul, we understand the priorities of US policymakers—US national security and regional stability. But now that Afghanistan has fallen and is being led by a power that once worked with Al-Qaeda, and that counts Iran and China among its supporters, it has become even more critical for the US to keep its military presence in Iraq, to protect endangered peoples.
For Iraq’s Christians and Yazidis, the choices now being mulled over in the Pentagon, the State Department, and the Oval Office are nothing less than life or death. We hope and pray that President Biden will make the right decisions and not throw Iraq—especially Assyrians and Yazidis—to the wolves.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean and director of global social action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Juliana Taimroozay is founder and president of Iraqi Christian Relief Council.
Hadi Pir is vice president of the Yazda Organization.