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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Spectre of Syria

The alliances of great powers are supposed to buy and sell wholesale, not retail. They exist to deter or to fight big wars. NATO has not been in that business for some time: it promotes itself—accurately, though somewhat ambivalently—as a security alliance, not a defense alliance. Its Article V still remains in effect but for all practical purposes NATO counts pennies, not pounds.

This matters now because of the tremendous volatility in the Middle East. NATO (and much of the Western media) is busy tracking drones over Tripoli and struggling to tell which color the trucks of fighters are painted in the roads near Misrata. This has served to divert—albeit only partially and ineffectively—Western attention from the real crisis underway, which no Western leader wants to talk about, namely Syria. If events in Syria follow their logical course, we could see the Lebanonization of that country. A proxy war there between Iran and Saudi Arabia would most likely draw in Lebanon and Iraq and probably Israel. About the only force that could prevent or deter it would be a serious, collective threat of Western intervention, the vehicle for which would most surely have to be NATO.

Alas, NATO isn’t looking so mighty right now in this part of the world. Preventing a regional, sectarian war in the Middle East? Sorry. Too busy cataloguing tribes west of Cyrenaica. The West, if such a thing still exists, no longer does politics or strategy wholesale. No matter that, by some estimates, more Libyan civilians have already been killed or displaced throughout Libya than Barack Obama promised to save in Benghazi. Far higher numbers of casualties await further east. And Western credibility—thanks to its hasty and ill planned diversion against Col. Gaddafi—is much lower than it needs to be. Let us pray that the winds shift soon in the other direction.  

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