Meanwhile, the Islamist regime in Iran is using terrorist groups – Hezbollah in particular -- to project its power globally, while simultaneously pursuing nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. The goal is clear: to become a superpower for the 21st century – loosely modeled on the superpower that emerged in the 7th century and which dominated the world for a nearly a thousand years thereafter.
Allowing this to happen would represent a mistake of historic proportions, akin to enabling the rise of Hitler in the 1930s. Yet, now as then, only a small percentage of Europeans are prepared to do what is necessary to resist tyranny.
That leaves the problem for America to solve. But it will not be easy for the U.S. to act as the lone superpower at a time when there is increasing doubt about whether America still is a superpower, doubt about whether America has either the will or a way win post-modern wars and shape the future.
If the U.S. decides to rise to the challenge, it may not succeed. If it backs away from the fight, failure is guaranteed. And should a fanatical, oil-rich, nuclear-armed, terrorist-sponsoring superpower arise in the Middle East, the consequences will be dire.
To prevail in the current global conflict will be no cakewalk. It will require enormous determination, courage, energy and creativity. There will be casualties. There will be setbacks. Americans will not be loved. They will be reviled - not just by our enemies but also by those we seek to defend.
In the past, Americans were up to such challenges. They refused to give up or to give in to those they recognized as enemies of freedom. We will soon learn whether the current generation is made of the same hardy stuff.
Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.