Winston Churchill was probably the most consequential leader of the 20th century and possibly beyond that. He warned against the Munich Agreement, awoke the world to the threat and tyranny of Hitler and from 1940 to 1945 led his people to battle and victory, saving the free the world from the fangs of fascism. The Nobel laureate and author of over 40 books, left civilization with much more than “blood, sweat and tears”.
Churchill was nevertheless voted out after winning the war, only to come back six years later for an important second term.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s most consequential term as Prime Minister was perhaps also his first one. From 1996 to 1999, Netanyahu pivoted Israel towards a free-market economy and more importantly, managed to mitigate many perils of the 1993 Oslo Accords – one of the most ill-conceived diplomatic follies since the 1938 Munich Agreement. It took a generation to replace the Oslo paradigm of ‘Peace with PLO First’ to ‘Peace for Peace First’, manifesting itself with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco, and the rest of the Middle East. Much of the heavy lifting was done during Netanyahu’s first term.
Netanyahu was voted out after one term and a decade later, like Churchill, came back to serve and bring about additional important achievements.
Donald J. Trump is not Winston S. Churchill, nor is he Netanyahu. But he did do more in four years than many Presidents do in eight. He cut taxes, removed regulations, generated jobs, engineered four unprecedented Middle East peace deals, withdrew from a dangerous nuclear agreement with Iran, putting in place crippling sanctions on it and its state sponsored terrorism, held China more accountable in trade, accelerated lifesaving vaccines and served as a loud voice – perhaps too loud – for millions of Americans who felt they were never heard before. Time will tell whether Trump can or should come back like other consequential leaders before him.
Few remember who succeeded Churchill and Netanyahu since their main accomplishment was just that. For Biden to be different it will not suffice to call on ostensible unity while trying to reverse everything related to Trump. It will not suffice to undo Trump’s climate or immigration policy, reiterate that Black Lives Matter (as do all lives), to reappoint failed diplomates from Obamas era or to continue the COVID-19 vaccination drive that began before his inauguration.
One way Biden can leave a lasting mark is if he succeeds where his predecessors failed. Namely, prevent the Islamic Republic of Iran from ever acquiring nuclear weapons. The last diplomatic attempt to do so was The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in 2015 between Iran and a group of world powers led by President Obama. It did not work. The main problem with JCPOA, was not that the sides would breach it, as Iran did at least three times before President Trump’s withdrawal, but rather the risk that the sides would abide by it, as the agreement would have paved the path to a prosperous Nuclear Iran within a decade.
More than anything, JCPOA was a sorely missed opportunity. After years of multilateral negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, and China—plus Germany, the agreement was negligent in key components of preventing Iran from becoming a military nuclear power. The agreement temporarily and partially addressed the level of Iran’s uranium enrichment (which was breached at least three times) and it completely ignored and may have even facilitated Iran’s missile and warhead delivering capabilities. Aside from that, Iran’s sponsorship and dissemination of terrorism in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and its call to annihilate the Jewish State and exterminate its inhabitants remained, outside the scope of JCPOA.
If Biden is willing and able to right the JCPOA’s wrongs, truly unite America and complete the Middle East peace process, he will go down as one of the most consequential leaders of our time. Alternatively, he may be remembered as the guy who came after Trump.
* Dr. Falk is a research fellow at the International Institute of Counterterrorism (ICT), a founder of Acumen Risk Ltd. and the author of ‘Targeted Killings, Law and Counterterrorism Effectiveness’. The opinions expressed here are his own.