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The Year of Difficult Decisions

We are now sailing into a new year. The year has barely started, and we already feel the need to tighten our belts. There is widespread turbulence around us. Difficult and painful decisions will need to be made. There are several key issues sitting on President Biden’s table. The primary one is how can the US continue pumping weapons and millions of dollars into Ukraine, which continues to fight an endless war against Russia. Can Biden really prevent Vladimir Putin from winning the war without humiliating him and pushing him to use weapons of last resort? Can he pressure President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to accept a truce even at the cost of relinquishing Ukrainian territory? These tough questions must be answered by the Biden Administration in the next few months. And then, of course, there are internal politics in the aftermath of the midterm elections and the informal launch of the next presidential race. Biden knows that Putin is determined to achieve his goals regardless of the costs. Moscow is seeking revenge against the very same Western model that resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling of the Soviet Union. This is the model that led to the various color revolutions that pushed Western powers closer and closer to Russia’s borders. Therefore, Putin only has one choice: victory. Europe, whose fragility and dependence on Russian gas has been exposed by the Ukrainian war, finds itself facing painful questions and difficult decisions as well. What remains of European progress if the power goes out in France, Germany, and elsewhere in the continent? What remains of Europe’s stability if the elderly or children die of cold? At Macron’s table, as at Schultz’s table and others, there are difficult questions of unprecedented caliber. Can Europe pay the price for Zelenskyy’s insistence on “fighting until victory”? Can Europe bend down and agree to change Ukraine’s borders by force to appease the Russian czar? Can Europe survive a wave of inflation, strikes, rising prices, and low security? Xi Jinping’s table is not immune to tough decisions either. Putin’s defeat would postpone Beijing’s dream of restoring its control over Taiwan. Putin’s victory could plunge the world and its economy into an irreversible crisis. The Chinese leader succeeded in walking the tightrope in the year that passed; but what about the new year? He certainly desires to weaken America’s position of global leadership. He also dreams of ending the hegemony of the US dollar. However, his country’s interests with America and Europe are enormous, and cannot be compensated for by the fall of wounded Russia into the Chinese embrace. His calculations are difficult. He should pay attention to the Indian giant next door. And to Japan, which discovered just how fragile its economy really is. In the gloomy Middle East, many countries, including the Arab countries, need to take difficult and painful decisions in light of the Ukrainian earthquake. The return of Binyamin Netanyahu to the helm of Israel, and the composition of his new government, are also deeply concerning. In Iran, protests continue to take place daily, despite the government’s repeated attempts to repress and crush them. There are now voices even within the government itself that threaten the stability of the mullah regime. The mullahs know that castles often fall from within, and not just from outside winds of change. The manufacturing of killer drones for Russia doesn’t obviate the need of the Iranian regime to meet the needs of its people, who are demanding more rights and more freedom. Interestingly, however, a visitor to Riyadh in the last week of the year does not feel called upon to make difficult decisions. Perhaps because the kingdom already made these types of decisions years ago, when it adopted Vision 2030; when it chose the path of openness, reform, and innovation. The results of this reform are evident in Saudi Arabia’s economy, culture, and diplomacy; in the strengthening of Saudi Arabia’s position at the G20 Summit; and in the diversification of Saudi Arabia’s strategic partnerships with major economies. These decisions allowed Saudi Arabia to become a locomotive of progress in the region, providing a model for the Arab world’s ability to engage with the winds of change that are sweeping our world. –Ghassan Charbel (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)