U.S. influence critical in Ukraine, Israel conflicts

By Harlan Ullman
U.S. President Joe Biden (L) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel on October 18. Pool Photo by Miriam Alster/UPI
1 of 5 | U.S. President Joe Biden (L) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel on October 18. Pool Photo by Miriam Alster/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 8 (UPI) -- In 1949, after Mao Zedong's communist forces drove Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang from China's mainland to Taiwan, its was wrongly alleged that "America lost China."

Of course, China was not America's to lose. Why? America simply lacked sufficient influence on Chiang and the KMT to make any difference.


Is the United States also "losing" the wars in Ukraine and Israel because of the lack of influence in Kyiv and Jerusalem? In Ukraine, while U.S. President Joe Biden has repeatedly promised to stay the course for "as long as it takes," it is still Ukraine's war to fight. The meaning is clear. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is calling the shots.

Despite Ukraine's valiant stand that stalled Russia's assault to seize Kyiv and then retook some of the territory lost in the invasion, the war has entered a static phase. Neither Ukraine nor Russia can gain more than local tactical advantages. As a result, and with winter quickly approaching, a deadlock seems inevitable with little movement across the 600 mile-long front line.


Ukraine was always the David facing the Russian Goliath. The difference is that Ukraine's sling did not have sufficient stones to slay the giant. Given the nearly $200 billion committed by the West to Ukraine, Russia's size and population create what may be the crucial advantage.

Ukraine has about 5 million, as opposed to Russia's 25 million pool of potential fighting personnel. And, even taking huge losses in soldiers and material that U.K. Chief of Defense Adm. Tony Radakin estimated was about half of Russia's military capability, it has mounted a formidable defense that has stymied further Ukrainian advances to the east.

Gen. Vasily Zaluhzny, Ukraine's chief of defense, wrote a remarkable treatise in The Economist last week. It was a stunning critique of what it will take to defeat Russia. Zaluhzny's targets were Zelensky and Biden. But what he describes as needing to win are air superiority, counter-battery, demining and other capabilities that are not acquirable even in the long term. The West simply does not possess enough of these capabilities to transfer them, even if it could.

The lack of influence may be even more significant regarding Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken have not been able to obtain a "pause" in the fighting to allow humanitarian assistance for Gaza. But a pause is not the solution to ending the war, minimizing destruction and reaching a just and lasting peace in the region.


Conditions in Gaza are grim as Israel continues its offensive, driving deeper into the strip. However justified is Israel's response to Hamas' heinous attack that claimed nearly 1,500 innocent Israeli lives, in its offensive to destroy Hamas, it is killing Palestinian civilians, many of whom are young, and leveling much of Gaza. The more Palestinian casualties the Israel Defense Force inflicts, the more the hostility against Israel grows.

This is the heart of Hamas' strategy: the more death and destruction Israel can impose, the more Israel will become an international pariah. Hamas is also betting that the pressure on Netanyahu, already a prime minister wounded by his attempt to compromise the judiciary and the failure to anticipate the surprise attack, will collapse his government, throwing the country into chaos. And Hamas' strategy cynically gave Israel no option except to react the way it did after the Oct. 7 assault.

On the current courses, the outcomes in Ukraine of possible long-term stalemate and in Israel, which could see a political unraveling, are bleak. What, if anything, can the United States and the Biden administration do to change these potentially disastrous outcomes? Can sufficient influence be applied to change Zelensky's and Netanyahu's thinking?


In Ukraine, if the stalemate persists, Ukraine will have no choice except to negotiate with Russia, no matter how distasteful. The United States must be making that case now and in private. And a plan for what a negotiation will entail and for post-war reconstruction is essential and needed now.

Netanyahu may be a tougher nut to crack. He seems irreversibly opposed to the only possible option: a two-state solution granting Palestinians some form of independence. Yet, without a two-state solution, as the blood bath in Gaza continues and Hamas dominates the public relations war, when will the West Bank explode?

If Israel is to survive the consequences of the war, Netanyahu must embrace the two-state solution. And that depends on whether Biden has the vision, courage and perseverance to bring enough influence to change these unsavory outcomes.

Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist, a senior adviser at Washington's Atlantic Council, the prime author of "shock and awe" and author of "The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large." Follow him @harlankullman. The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.


Israeli airstrike hits refugee camp in northern Gaza

Palestinians mourn those killed in an Israeli airstrikes on the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza on October 31, 2023. Photo by Anas Jamal/UPI | License Photo

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