Published in French in "Le Monde" (3 Nov 2004)

Leadership for Peace:
Reflections on the role of the United States in the international system

Silvan Shalom
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel

The citizens of the United States go to the polls this Tuesday against a backdrop of great debate both at home and abroad over America’s policies in the international arena. It is therefore timely to remind ourselves of the unique contribution to world peace and stability that the United States has made in the modern era.

Since World War II, the United States has led the democracies of the world in their collective effort to promote the universal values of freedom, opportunity, tolerance and equality in global society. These are values which transcend continents and oceans, languages and cultures; they are the essential building blocks of the safer, more stable and prosperous world we all wish to see.

Strong and courageous leadership has been required to promote and protect these values in the face of radical ideologies, from communism to extremist Islamic fundamentalism, whose common essence is their tyrannical denial of basic freedoms. The United States of America has provided this leadership. For two generations now America has been the backbone of the international response to tyranny and oppression.

Of course, America can not go it alone. In today’s globalized world, there is no place – or possibility – for any power, even a superpower, to craft and implement solutions to such challenges on its own. America needs Europe and all other countries committed to the values of democracy and freedom, to stand and labour with it to ensure that these values and freedoms are safeguarded.

Yet just as the US needs Europe, Europe also needs America. Europe today is no less threatened by the tyranny of terrorism and radical fundamentalism, than the United States or Russia or Israel or Indonesia or Turkey. Europe benefits from America’s engagement no less than any others, and perhaps even more.
Sitting in Israel, it is at times staggering to see how often these fundamental truths are lost in the public barrage of anti-American sentiment and vitriol.

Different points of view over tactics or specific policies or actions are of course legitimate, but we should all be careful lest they overshadow or obscure the fundamental concurrence of interests and objectives shared by every member of the Atlantic alliance and so many other countries in the promotion and protection of democracy around the world.

As America goes to the polls, it is reassuring to know that no matter who wins the election, it will be a victory for these values of democracy and  freedom, and no matter which candidate assumes the Presidency, America will continue to lead the world in the global effort to promote peace and democracy.

The results of such leadership for peace are undeniable.

The Iron Curtain came tumbling down already fifteen years ago. Since its demise, freedom’s greatest breakthrough since World War Two, the world has seen the ideas and values of democracy spread faster than ever before.

Just in recent years, we are seeing positive geopolitical changes from Afghanistan to Libya, as questions of democratic rights and the need for genuine reform are slowly but surely taking root.  Today, ordinary citizens from all corners of the world are demanding their own share of the fruits of democracy – responsible and accountable leadership, economic opportunity and personal freedoms – women’s rights and free choice.

Despite the present difficulties in Iraq, the removal of Saddam Hussein has also placed that country, and the Middle East as a whole, on the path to democracy which in the long run offers the best hope for the peoples of the region.

At the same time, the playing field of the global terror network is being reduced everyday. Terrorists today have fewer regimes to hide behind, fewer states that are willing to host their training camps, serve as launching pads for their attacks or offer tactical support. Terrorist groups are being identified and isolated, their funds intercepted and their networks weakened.

America’s leadership for peace is also clearly evident in the Middle East.

It was U.S. President Jimmy Carter who stood beside Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat when they signed the historic Israeli-Egyptian peace accord in 1979, it was President George Bush Sr. who convened the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, and President Bill Clinton who put his arms around the late King Hussein of Jordan and the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994, when Jordan became the second Arab country to forge a peace agreement with Israel. America also played the central facilitative role during the Oslo years, and it continues to play a unique and irreplaceable role in the diplomatic efforts to bring the current four-year long campaign of Palestinian violence to an end so that direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks can resume.

While America is credited, rightly, for its strong support of Israel, it is a mistake to see this as something inimical or inconsistent with Palestinian interests. When the United States, together with all responsible members of the international community, condemns Palestinian suicide attack after Palestinian suicide attack, it does so not only for Israel’s sake but for the Palestinians’ sake as well. The joint effort on the part of the US together with the EU and other international players to bring about an end to Palestinian terrorism and incitement and to encourage good governance and reform, is about standing up for Palestinian rights and legitimate aspirations, not against them. This is how peace will be achieved and this is how the world will be made a safer and better place for all.

Israel for its part remains committed to completing the circle of peace and forging a lasting agreement with our Palestinian neighbors. We are ready to sit down with any leader who comes to the table without terrorism and with the genuine desire to resolve our differences and live side by side in peace.
What has been tragically lacking on the Palestinian side is the kind of responsible and courageous leadership that can make such a peace possible. Week after week, month after month, year after year, the Palestinian cause is being undermined by its own leadership’s failure to recognize that terrorism is their enemy, not Israel; that their interest lies not in perpetuating the notion of Palestinian victimhood but rather in fostering Palestinian empowerment; that diplomacy and dialogue are the only way forward, not incitement and terror.

Indeed, it is not only ironic but also bitterly tragic that the leadership most often criticized in the Middle East is not that of the totalitarian or terrorist regimes or the serial violators of human rights, but the US and its role in the international arena. The burden of proof, however, lies on those who challenge the US and its allies, to show to the world – and particularly to their own peoples – that they have better answers, better means to advance their interests. Thus far, those who reject the values and freedoms of democracy have only destruction and national stagnation to show for their efforts.

Indeed, we have only to look to Europe to see the immense possibilities that are opened up for each and every citizen once militancy and aggression are abandoned in favour of tolerance, cooperation and exchange. Europe’s ability to overcome its own conflicts and to build collective democratic institutions and freedoms is a testament to the creative and constructive power of democratic values and ideals. Europe’s achievements in every field of endeavour are living proof of the vitality and inherent worth – for humanity as a whole – of the united drive for peace and democracy.

As Europe continues to consolidate its Union, its responsibility as a partner to the US in defence of democratic values and aspirations across the globe can only grow. This US-European partnership is crucial to the success of the global battle against those who see as their enemy the tolerance and individual freedoms which lie at the core of our way of life. The leadership shown by the United States across recent generations can and indeed should serve as an example and guide to us all, as we seek to rise to the challenges of our generation, so that we may meet the hopes of the next.