War remains an act of force to compel the enemy to do your will where the political outcome is paramount. The latter is strategically vital, encompassing as it does the reason for using military force. With the United States’ precipitous withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, standing aside while Mediterranean “powers” like Italy and France led in deposing Qaddafi, and now the political dithering by the White House over whether Israel should thwart Iran’s pledge to wipe it off the face of the earth—coupled with standing aside as Syrian forces slaughter their own—make it obvious that America views itself as one of many actors on a world stage rather than the director, producer, and leading player.
Strategic abdication is dangerous. American political culture, founded as it was on concepts of human liberty and freedom, is unique. It has also produced an economic powerhouse and a level of living unmatched in human history. The reality is that only the United States has the power and moral authority to maintain its position as a world leader. If this administration blows it, there are powers ready to step forward: China, Russia, Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Venezuela among them. Imagine a world in which these leaders articulate their visions for the world of the 21st century. In such a world, “American exceptionalism” will be as strategically irrelevant as Swiss or Finnish exceptionalism and, as Shakespeare put it, “full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
The world is at the precipice of strategic catastrophe. Israel may soon strike Iran. Leaders in Jerusalem know that if Assad reasserts control of Syria, his army will present a major threat on Israel’s northern border, especially since it is linked militarily with Hezbollah in Lebanon. To the south, where Egypt roils in social and political upheaval, a radical Islamist regime hostile to Israel is likely to emerge. If nothing is done, these regimes, linked to a nuclear-armed Tehran vowed to destroy Israel, will be the deciding strategic factor in the Middle East. This is the price of strategic abdication.
Now is the time for the United States to lead. If America fails, the world may descend into a dark and ominous future made more sinister by the moral imperatives of a radical religious ideology.
Earl Tilford is a retired Air Force officer and college professor who lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of several books on the air war in Vietnam. His latest book, Turning the Tide: The University of Alabama in the 1960s has been accepted for publication by the University of Alabama Press.