Editor’s note: Dan Gordon is a longtime, successful Hollywood screenwriter and author, as well as a captain in the Israel Defense Forces (reserves).
By Dan Gordon
Presidential elections are the breeding ground for hyperbole, but with regard to the foreign policy legacy that will be left to the next president by the current occupant of the White House, I believe it is fair to say we are facing one of the most dangerous periods in living memory.
Though born in the United States, I am a dual American and Israeli citizen, having been raised and grown to manhood in both countries. When I was of draft age I lived on a Kibbutz in Israel, where I had gone to high school, and was drafted into the ranks of the IDF in time to serve in the Yom Kippur War in October of 1973.
I have been a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces for 42 years, serving both in the regular army and reserves and participating in six wars during that period. In my career I have served in the Israel Air Force, as well as its ground forces. I have been in charge of all Israel Air Force training films and have been an armored infantry sniper and squad leader. Since 2002 I have served with the Military Spokesperson Unit and have been a spokesperson for the IDF in multiple conflicts, as well as a military analyst on virtually every major media outlet in the U.S. and Western Europe.
Last year I had the great privilege of being attached to one of Israel’s most elite combat units, The Givati Brigade, and became the oldest officer, at the age of 68, ever to qualify to wear their purple beret, presented to me personally by the Brigade’s commander, Col. Ofer Winter, who, I believe, almost single-handedly saved the State of Israel from one of the most existential threats it has ever faced. Someday, I hope the truth of his contribution to Israel’s security will be fully told.
Several years before the Oslo accords,I authored a Mideast peace plan that was championed by the No. 2 on the House Foreign Relations Committee, the late Rep. Wayne Owens, with whom I traveled, at the direction of the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Lee Hamilton, to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the West Bank and Israel. I met and negotiated, personally with the leaders of all those countries, and in the case of the Palestinians, negotiated with the heads of the most relevant Palestinian terrorist organizations in the West Bank at the time, including the PLO and the George Habash faction of the PFLP. I did so after asking the other members of the American delegation to leave, and then informing the members of the Palestinian organizations that I was not just an American, but a Jew, an Israeli and an Israeli soldier. I informed them that if there were a button on my side of the table I could push that would make all of them and their families disappear from off the face of the earth, I would do it without hesitation. I said I had no qualms about telling them that since I knew they would do the same to me and my family, were such a button on their side of the table. Absent that, however, I asked if there might not be a way in which we could live together, side by side in peace.
The meeting took place in the basement of The Orient House in East Jerusalem, the PLO’s then unofficial headquarters. I did not get their agreement. I did, however, get their respect. Adversary to adversary. They knew they could trust my word, and I assured them I trusted their word, that their goal was to destroy us. I respected, at the very least, their candor.
I have negotiated with kings and presidents and terrorists. I have had men in my gun sights, just as they have had me in theirs. I lost 50 percent of the hearing in my left ear when a Katyusha rocket exploded a bit too close for comfort. I have been to far too many funerals of those killed in war.
Those are my bona fides in foreign policy.
I had the great good fortune of getting to know several great military leaders, both American and Israeli. One of them imparted a simple yet profound truth, which seems to have escaped the current president of the United States. He said countries only buy the weapons they intend to use, and deploy to the positions from which they intend to either defend or attack. Knowing one from the other will be the best indicator of their intentions.
What’s complicated about that?
Examining the current state of affairs that have resulted from this administration’s disastrous foreign policy decisions, what can one discern?
Under the Obama/Clinton administration, we famously hit a “Reset” button with Putin’s Russia. This was the same Vladimir Putin to whom Mr. Obama promised increased “flexibility” once he (Obama) was re elected. Unlike his health-care promises, Mr. Obama kept that one.
In 2014 Putin’s Russia annexed Crimea and launched an invasion of Eastern Ukraine in violation of the treaty, which not only Russia had signed but one in which the U.S. and Great Britain pledged to guarantee Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.
World events happen neither in a vacuum nor in the dark. The old saying from the 1960s is truer today than ever: the whole world is watching.
And what did the world see? A purposefully flaccid U.S. foreign policy, which ushered in the notion of leading from behind. “Leading from behind” was Obama’s euphemism for ignominious retreat.
The world’s worst actors took note.
China has begun creating artificial islands in the South China Sea, claiming them as Chinese territory, extending their territorial waters by 550 miles, challenging on the high seas freedom of navigation and in the “new Chinese airspace,” and not so subtly threatening it’s Asian neighbors including both America and it’s leading Asian ally, Japan, not to mention Taiwan, Vietnam and South Korea.
Speaking of South Korea, as I write these words, “‘Lil Kim” has just defied America, the U.N. and China by testing a three stage ballistic missile, which, if their claims are correct, could carry a nuclear warhead to the West Coast of the United States. This comes roughly a month after the Hermit Kingdom tested what they referred to as a hydrogen bomb and what, American officials said, reassuringly, may just have been a standard fission bomb that relies primarily on plutonium or uranium for its explosive yield. What a relief, huh? And what has been our reaction? Secretary of State John Kerry tweeted “The United States strongly condemns today’s missile launch by the #DPRK.” Positively Churchillian.
Strength is never provocative. Weakness always is. Remember bin Laden’s Strong Horse, Weak Horse analogy? No one ever says, ” See that guy who’s 6’8″ and weighs 300 pounds and is an MMA champion, with a Glock 9mm in his waistband? Let’s go rob him!”
Weakness, however, is always provocative.
Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi famously told his American captors, who let him go as part of Obama’s snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq,”I’ll see you guys in New York.”
Shortly thereafter, in the wake of American retreat, he declared the birth of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Obama called them the JV team in Kobe Bryant jerseys. At the time, ironically, he was right. He could have wiped out their entire force of black-clad terrorists in Toyota pickups with a couple of F15s who could have “degraded and destroyed” ISIS while they were making their way from Syria in a straight line caravan, 500 pounds at a time, inside of a few hours.
Obama was concerned, however, not with deterrence, but campaign promises to Code Pink.
How much misery has that single moment of simultaneous impotence, hubris and stupidity inflicted on millions of Muslims, Yazidis, Christians, Syrians, Iraqis, Kurds, Europeans and Americans alike?!
The JV team of ISIS is active today, not only in its caliphate, made up of portions of the former Syria and Iraq, but in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Nigeria, Libya, Algeria, Gaza, Sinai, and of course Brussels, London, Paris and San Bernardino. To paraphrase his predecessor, “You’re doin’ a hell of a job, Barry!”
And then there’s Iran. We just cut a deal with them that guarantees them a nuclear weapon at the latest, if they abide by the treaty, in 15 years!
Of course, if they cheat they’ll get it a lot sooner.
We also just gave them $150 billion dollars and the ability to lock up hundreds of billions more in trade agreements, with absolutely no limits on their inter-continental ballistic missile program or their state sponsorship of worldwide terror. We were so anxious for this Iranian proctology exam that we did the deal despite Iran’s capturing two American naval vessels and violating the Geneva Conventions by forcing our sailors to kneel, hands on their heads, and formally apologize for their crimes on Iranian broadcasts. America was humiliated in the Middle East as it has not been humiliated by the mullahs since the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran almost 40 years ago.
And the Obama administration’s response? Technically it was not a violation of the Geneva accords since we are not at war with Iran. Well, if that’s the case, then it was an act of piracy! And the whole world was watching, friend and foe alike, and everyone drew the only conclusions one could draw. America had just ceded regional hegemony in the Middle East to a theocratic, apocalyptic, fascist regime which differs from ISIS only in aesthetics. Both seek to establish a worldwide caliphate under Shariah law. Both chant death to America and mean it. One burns people alive in cages and the other hangs them from cranes in public squares. And if you were an Egyptian, a Saudi, Emirati, Jordanian, Bahai, Mideast Christian or Israeli, you just found yourself under the bus with Obama’s grandmother.
In Libya, we led from behind to topple a dictator who was cooperating with us and gave up his nukes when he saw Saddam pulled out of his rat hole. And what was the result of this brilliant piece of statecraft and lead from behind military debacle? Four dead Americans, abandoned by their government, their deaths blamed on a video, and a new ISIS outpost where Christians were beheaded on the shores of the Mediterranean so their blood could wash up on the shores of Europe as a sign of things to come.
Finally, it all comes together in Syria. You remember Syria? The place where Barry O said Assad must go? The place where he drew a line in the sand and then quickly erased it? Here’s our brilliant solution to that festering heart of darkness that has flooded Europe with millions of refugees, some of whom seem to regard gang rape as a New Year’s Eve celebratory right. We have allowed Putin to come back into the Middle East with a vengeance, undoing over 40 years of American diplomacy and the resolve of every administration, Democrat and Republican, since FDR, to keep the Russians from dominance in that region. Putin has created an alliance with the same Assad, the Obama/Clinton administration said must go, and with Hezbollah, Iraqi Shia militias and the Iranians, in order not to defeat ISIS, but wipe out Assad’s opponents and create a Shiah crescent from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean under Russian patronage! And to make it worse, we are their wingman! Our air strikes are enabling Putin, Assad, Hezbollah and Iran’s slaughter of the Syrian rebels who supposedly we sought to support!
That is the world Obama leaves to the next president of the United States. The only thing missing is the Archduke Ferdinand in a carriage.
So who on the horizon can best deal with this doomsday array of threats? Bernie Sanders?! He is a self-proclaimed European-styled socialist. They’re doing great at dealing with the world’s threats, right?
How about Hillary? Well, her husband was the one who negotiated the deal that enabled Lil Kim to have nukes. She is the architect of both the famous reset and Benghazi and promises to build on the successes of Obama! Heaven help us!
Make no mistake, all of our adversaries, the Russians and Chinese, Lil Kim, ISIS and the mullahs will test the next president.
Marco Rubio may well have had his Howard Dean moment in the last debate. If he can’t deal with Chris Christie, he’s dog meat with Putin and the mullahs and ISIS. He’s a handsome, bright young man, but he, like Cruz and Obama before him, is a one-term senator who has done nothing in life but seek public office. He comes off like a boy. He won’t just be tested; he’ll be trampled.
What about Ted Cruz? He’s a staunch conservative but when handed what should have been a soft ball, he woosed out like the worst Washington quisling. He was given the three o’clock in the morning phone call. “What would his reaction be to the launching of Lil Kim’s intercontinental ballistic missile?”
He hadn’t been briefed!
Can you imagine Reagan giving that answer? Do you recall what Reagan did when it seemed that Gadhafi might have been responsible for the bombing of a German nightclub frequented by American military personal? He bombed Gadhafi’s presidential palace! And when it turned out that one of Gadhafi’s adopted children had been killed in the attack, there was no apology – just an assurance that America would deliver the same message once again if the first one wasn’t sufficiently understood.
Cruz hadn’t been briefed?! He hadn’t heard that ‘Lil Kim boasted of exploding an H-bomb a month before?! That wasn’t on his radar?
He’s a great Harvard debater. But an effective commander in chief has to have the ability to be decisive and to rally the legislature around him, to make a deal with the very people Cruz boasts that he can’t get along with. That’s fine for a filibuster. But we’re going to need a Reaganesque leader who can inspire our friends to follow us and our adversaries to fear us. I know that’s not politically correct, but the world is a very rough neighborhood thanks to the seven years of rear-end leadership. Our enemies don’t have to love us. They don’t even have to respect us. But they damn well better fear us.
So who else is there? Kasich? Nice man, but you really think Putin, the Chinese, the North Koreans, Iranians or ISIS will look in his eyes and be afraid? Carson? Great doctor. Good man. But he’s not low energy. He’s somnolent.
Which brings us to Mr. Trump.
Ronald Reagan was the first Republican I voted for. I had just come back from living 10 years in Israel. I had been through a war. The friends of my youth were buried in the cemetery in the forest above the Kibbutz where we were schoolboys together. I well remember the liberal rap on Reagan. He was an idiot. He was a puppet of the corporate interests that pulled his strings. He was an actor. But he had one decisive thing going for him. It was the same thing Menachem Begin had. I say this with absolutely no disrespect, in fact with the greatest admiration. Friend and foe alike looked at Ronald Reagan and said, “That crazy son of a bitch might just do what he says!”
There are times when that is not only an admirable quality, but one necessary for national survival.
But Reagan had another quality. The ability to inspire, to make us see the shining city on the hill. That, plus being the crazy son of a bitch who might just do what he said, is not only what made him great, it vanquished our adversaries. It inspired their fear and ultimately their respect. America kept its word under Ronald Reagan. It didn’t lead from the rear. It led. It didn’t apologize for America. It celebrated it’s exceptionalism, it’s limitless opportunities for greatness. After the malaise of the Peanut Farmer, President Reagan did what Mr. Trump has promised to do. He made America great once again.
Donald Trump is great on the attack. He’s great at getting his opponent off his game. He has a real bond with his followers because, like it or not, he’s saying out loud exactly what everyone is thinking in silence. And he makes no apologies for it.
But he’s got to do more. He’s got a great story to tell. He and Cruz and Rubio are the embodiment of the American dream. The senators are both minorities who came from poverty to be candidates for president of the United States. Trump, unlike them, is a rich white guy. But that doesn’t mean he’s untested. He’s had to declare bankruptcy four times. That would have destroyed many a man. But each time he dusted himself off and came back harder, tougher, more successful than ever before. And unlike Cruz or Rubio , he has not spent his life seeking political power. He’s spent his life building things, creating jobs and yes, thank God, creating wealth, and not just for himself, but the cities he’s revitalized, the projects that have given livelihoods to people who work for a living, not filibuster.
He is the embodiment of Carl Sanburg’s poem:
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny
laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter
laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his
wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people
It’s time to find your inner Reagan, Mr. Trump. If you do, you’ll keep the promise you’ve made.
Dan Gordon is the screenwriter of 15 Hollywood features, including “The Hurricane” (Denzel Washington), and author of eight novels, including the recently published “Day of The Dead, Book One – Gaza.” His plays have been produced both on Broadway and the West End of London. In addition he has served in the Israel Defense Forces for over 40 years, serving in six wars, including 2014’s Hamas/Israel War. He has appeared on virtually every Western media outlet as a military analyst, commentator on Mideast affairs and IDF spokesman.