Learning From Sadat: The Dividends of American Resolve
In November 1977, Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat took the podium in the Israeli Knesset. Decrying fanaticism, Sadat challenged Israelis to “overlook the past, with all its complexities and weighing memories,” and to make a radical turn toward peace. Yet only seven years earlier, as he ascended to power, Sadat had echoed Gamal Nasser’s radical views regarding Israel and Western imperialism: “The time of revolutionary action has come. . . . The battle is the first thing. The battle is the second thing, and the battle is the final thing.”
Sadat’s words, in both 1970 and 1977, were each in their own way a response to the massive disordering of Arab politics that resulted from the failure of Arab armies to destroy Israel in the Six Day War of 1967. In 1977, Sadat abandoned the radicalism that sprang from defeat and chose a more responsible path. His courage tangibly advanced Egyptian interests—the recovery of Egyptian territory and thirty-five years of peace—and similarly advanced the long-term interests of others—Israel, of course, but also Jordan, Syria, and the United States.
Today Arab politics is undergoing another period of great disorder, similar in magnitude to its predecessor decades ago, although the result of different causes. As before, there are yearnings for dignity and political rejuvenation. As before, there are large hopes that Arab states might finally establish a politics that would be responsible, effective, and free; a politics that might advance the healthy interests of both the region and the United States. As before, the course that the Arab world takes will largely depend on whether responsible leadership emerges.