It was the speech President Franklin D. Roosevelt never gave. In a radio address scheduled for April 13, 1945, the fourth-term president would have said, “If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships — the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together, in the same world, at peace.”
But the day before, Roosevelt was sitting for a portrait at his cottage in Warm Springs, Georgia, when he suddenly slumped in his chair, the victim of a stroke. He didn’t live to see the allies’ victory in World War II that year or the conference in San Francisco that month that established the United Nations.
Roosevelt originally conceived of the UN as a muscular force to keep the peace, with the United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom and China acting as “four policemen” to rein in nations that would otherwise go to war. He wanted, in the words of the undelivered April 13 speech, “an end, forever, to this impractical, unrealistic settlement of the differences between governments by the mass killing of peoples.”
The world in 2023 is a much different place, but peace, as Roosevelt envisioned it, remains elusive. A two-week-old conflict in the Middle East has already claimed thousands of lives against the backdrop of a multipolar web of alliances and rivalries in which the world’s major powers often lack the ability to restrain conflict, and sometimes even encourage it.
On Thursday evening, though, President Joe Biden, who was a toddler when FDR died, sounded a Rooseveltian tone in asserting that the US still bears a special responsibility for seeking to promote world peace. He proposed billions in new aid to both Ukraine and Israel.
“We’re facing an inflection point in history — one of the moments where the decisions we make today are going to determine the future for decades to come,” Biden argued. “American leadership is what holds the world together. American alliances are what keep us, America, safe.”
Biden spoke just after returning from a trip to Israel to demonstrate support for an ally mourning the loss of more than 1,400 people in the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack. But his diplomatic efforts to meet with Arab leaders came undone after a devastating explosion at a hospital in Gaza. While Israel released evidence that the blast resulted from a rocket misfired by militants in Gaza and US officials signaled agreement, that did not tame the fury of the Palestinians and their supporters in the region.
Seth Moulton, a Marine Corps veteran and a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, says there are urgent lessons from America’s 2003 war in Iraq.
“Israel is about to start an invasion of Gaza with the same mission we had in those early days in Iraq: defeat the enemy, or in Netanyahu’s words, ‘crush and eliminate’ Hamas.”
“But the lesson America quickly learned in Iraq and Afghanistan was that you have to have a plan for the day after. Outside the southern Iraqi city of Najaf during the invasion, then Colonel David Petraeus famously asked, ‘Tell me how this ends….’”
“The next year, I found myself in that same city Petraeus had conquered, trying to win it back. It was my second of what would become four tours in Iraq, facing far worse combat than we saw during the invasion.”
The origins of the two wars are very different, Moulton pointed out, but there is the commonality that in a war with insurgents, some tactics can backfire.
“Nobody wants to see five-year-old Palestinian kids killed in the crossfire with Hamas, especially if their deaths only recruit more terrorists.”
“And nobody wants to see five-year-old Israeli kids dying, in the same forever war, 20 years from today.”
Israeli analyst Shmuel Rosner observed that “Israel says its goal is toppling Hamas, and Biden is no doubt asking: What comes later? Biden himself initially supported the US 2003 war in Iraq only to end up as the president who ordered the US pullout of Afghanistan. In the 20 years in between, he witnessed the two countries that the US invaded struggle to transform their leadership from one government to another. He is familiar with the cost involved, the chaos, the bloodshed… he surely wants to see a convincing answer to the question of the day after.”
Biden’s trip to Israel and Oval Office speech “show a confident, experienced commander-in-chief projecting gravitas and a deep knowledge of history,” according to David Mark. “Biden’s efforts stand out even more than usual since his likely 2024 Republican opponent, former President Donald Trump, has been clumsy and ineffective in trying to insert himself into these news events, as when he praised Hezbollah, the Iran-backed terror group based in Lebanon, in the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel. At the same time, the Republicans in office are in disarray as an increasingly embarrassing Republican leadership struggle in the House has paralyzed Capitol Hill.”
Hani Almadhoun, who grew up in the Gaza Strip, now lives in the US and works as director of philanthropy at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency USA. “In the northern reaches of Gaza,” he wrote, “over 20 members of my extended family seek shelter under the refuge of a staircase — a frail shield against the relentless and merciless storm of airstrikes.”
“They tread cautiously, avoiding windows and the desolate streets where the overwhelming stench of death, fire and chaos hangs heavy in the air…”
“The negative impact of this war on my family in Gaza is hard to overstate: hospitals running out of space for the dead and injured, pushing the local hospitals to use ice cream trucks to preserve the bodies.”
Yasmine Mohammed, whose father was born and raised in Gaza, observed that “since Hamas’ attack on Israel, as I have read post after post on social media referring to Hamas as freedom fighters involved in anti-colonial resistance, I have been struck by the devastating weight of this lie. It is an insult to Palestinians to refer to these terrorists as our freedom fighters.”
“At the hands of Hamas, the Jewish people have endured horrors not seen since the Holocaust. And, like the Nazis, Hamas does not view Jewish people as human beings. According to its 1988 covenant, every Jew must be eradicated from this earth. Its goal is not the genocide of Jewish people in Israel; its goal is the genocide of all Jewish people on this planet, period…”
“Hamas is not Gaza, and Gaza is not Hamas. Gaza is an area of land with people who are trying to do the best that they can to survive under abysmal circumstances. Gazans are just human beings, like their Israeli neighbors. They want to live in a peaceful environment where they do not have to be concerned about the safety of their children.”
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