Presidents Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Joe Biden.

0'SHEA: A World of Two Wars

The world is galvanized by the awful daily reports from Ukraine and Gaza, with the future direction of both conflicts very unsure. As American support wavers, Russia seems to be gaining the upper hand against the Kyiv resistance. While Israel is assured of military victory, they are facing serious charges alleging inhumane bombing of civilians in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague.

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Two years ago, Vladimir Putin had amassed troops on the border of Ukraine, claiming sovereignty over that country in a ploy reminiscent of the power games of the early 20th century. Many commentators doubted that he would invade an adjoining country at a time when grabbing a neighbor’s land was sure to elicit widespread outrage and condemnation.

Putin’s aggression in February 2022 was premised on the idea that the United States was losing interest in Europe and that the Western democracies were divided on critical economic issues and so incapable of any meaningful united response.

The Russian leader’s assessment was utterly wrong. Western leaders, led by President Biden, were outraged that Moscow, with its superior military power, would trample on the territorial integrity of a neighboring country. Instead of caving into his blatant land grab, they immediately pledged financial support and modern armaments to the Kyiv government.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy emerged as the elected leader of the resistance to the attempted Russian occupation of his country. This former actor from a Jewish family qualifies for Shakespeare’s definition of “a plain blunt man,” preaching a clear sermon about a bully taking advantage of his superior size and treasury.

 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Ukrainian leader traveled to all corners of the globe pleading for support against what he correctly named as Putin thuggery. He made a compelling moral case for a continuation of Ukrainian independence. He got a positive response nearly everywhere. However, North Korea and Iran aligned with Moscow, and Xi Jinping in China tried to equivocate by disapproving of any country invading another but still hosting Putin in Peking.

Ukraine still holds the important high moral ground because they clearly are the aggrieved party. Still, President Biden’s request for additional funding for the war is held up in Congress by a few Republican isolationists who are against providing additional funds for a conflict with no end in sight.

The likely Republican nominee for the presidential election in November, Donald Trump, claims that he will work out a deal with Vladimir Putin that will somehow satisfy both sides during the first few days of a Trump presidency. He has also indicated that he plans to lead the U.S. out of NATO. While promising a quick solution in Ukraine surely qualifies as empty rhetoric, nobody doubts that, under his leadership, American funding for the war will be phased out.

While President Biden is in the White House his unambiguous approval of Zelenskyy and his freedom fighters will continue, and he will try to find some way to work with other Western countries to maintain funding for the resistance in Kyiv. The results of the November election for the White House and both Houses of Congress will determine the future direction of the United States in the war in Ukraine.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The countries in the European Union (EU) are very wary of Russian aggression on their eastern doorsteps, and they fear that a victory in Kyiv will only be a preamble for Putin sending troops into Poland and Hungary, satellites of Moscow, until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

On December 14th last, the EU, in a significant move, agreed to start accession talks with Ukraine. In lauding this decision, Mr. Zelenskyy called it “a victory for Ukraine that motivates, inspires and strengthens.” He has no doubt that his country’s future lies with Brussels and not Moscow.

Putin and his generals have recently heightened the bombardment of Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine. They have significantly increased their attacks on civilian infrastructure hoping to wear down the people’s will to fight on. Uncertainty about military aid from Washington also strengthens his hand. These are precarious times for the Ukrainian government.

The second major conflict started after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7th, killing more than 1300 Israelis and holding hundreds more as hostages. This was a barbaric assault disproportionately impacting women and children. Nobody doubts Israel’s right to vigorously defend itself in these circumstances.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his far-right cabinet ministers responded by daily strafing Gaza in a revenge bombing that is still going on. Around 25,000 people, including women and children, have been mowed down by merciless Israeli bombardments. The terror and chaos in Gaza have led to a major humanitarian disaster, with famine spreading featuring starving children daily on our television screens.

The American leadership completely misread the situation and they have ended up sharing the blame for the human carnage. A few days after the initial attack, President Biden went to Israel for a public show of support for a close ally.

Fine, except Washington, which supplies most of the weaponry to Tel Aviv, is now seen as providing its blessing for the murder of thousands of innocent civilians. Unlike the Ukrainian War, Washington finds itself far away from the moral high ground.

Many progressive Americans are disgusted at the embarrassingly weak hand their leaders have played in this crisis. What positive results could possibly emerge from Israeli planes strafing a civilian population? Netanyahu’s madcap leadership has poisoned his country’s relationship with the United States and will hurt President Biden’s hope for re-election in November.

Most Western countries have repudiated the overkill policies of the Israeli government. These actions have not only alienated traditional allies from Israel, the only functioning democracy in the Middle East, but they have heightened the resistance against an Israeli government that has treated Palestinians as sub-humans.

The ICJ was created in 1945 by the United Nations Charter after World War 11. Ironically, the case being brought by South Africa against the Jewish State is based on the Genocide Convention, which was initiated by the United Nations in response to the horrors of Hitler’s openly genocidal policy of eliminating all Jews. It defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic or religious group.”

The seventeen judges adjudicating in the Hague will not make a final determination about Israel’s guilt or innocence for a few years. Still, they will issue what are called provisional measures, which are binding on the parties, although the court lacks enforcement powers. These may mandate a change of course by Israel to counter the current terrorizing of the people in Gaza.

The United States alone can lead the way out of the miasma of death and despair that defines life in Gaza now. Only President Biden can insist on a two-state solution that respects the rights and dignity of both communities.

Gerry O'Shea blogs at