Anne Applebaum, who is both a columnist for the WaPo and the spouse of the Foreign Minister of NATO member Poland, writes today that
- when Western leaders talk about the Libyan campaign as a “NATO operation” they are, at the very least, being economical with the truth.
She notes that many NATO members aren’t participating in hostilities in Libya. (Poland is one of these, though strangely she makes no mention of it. Even stranger: That the WaPo makes no mention of her national/sentimental affiliations when she writes about foreign policy issues for them.)
She notes, further, that Sweden, Netherlands, Norway, and Italy are among those NATO countries that are participating militarily but are doing so under tight restrictions imposed by their national governments, and that the U.S. government has cut back its military activities considerably since it “handed over command” of the operation to NATO.
- Yet neither Britain nor France wants responsibility for the operation — and neither feels comfortable relying on the other… This failure to cooperate is hardly surprising. This, after all, is the first Anglo-French military operation since the Suez escapade of 1956 — and that one ended rather badly.
But if this historically unreliable Anglo-French coalition proves unable to sustain a long operation, what then? … If Britain and France run out of planes, fuel, money or enthusiasm, it’s over. And NATO — an organization that, I repeat, did not plan for, prepare for or even vote for the Libyan operation — will shoulder most of the blame. The use of NATO’s name, in Libya, is a fiction. But the weakening of NATO’s reputation in Libya’s wake might become horribly real. In truth, the Libyan expedition is an Anglo-French project and has been from the beginning.
Now of course it is impossible to say how much of Applebaum’s analysis is shared either by her husband, the Polish foreign minister, or the rest of the Polish government. But it is probably fair to suppose that she would not knowingly publish a piece of public commentary with which her husband would strongly disagree or that could embarrass him in his public life in Poland.
By way of reference, here was Polish PM Donald Tusk recently asking a Warsaw newspaper,
- isn’t the Libyan case yet another example of European hypocrisy in view of the way Europe has behaved towards Gaddafi in recent years or even months?
Well, attentive JWN readers will know I have disagreed strongly with Anne Applebaum in the past. Crucially, she is probably very eager for NATO to retain its coherence, its capabilities, and its “credibility”, while I see it as a dangerous relic of an imperialist past and a deep drain on resources that should be used for socially useful goods.
But Applebaum does bring a helpful degree of realism to today’s column.
What she doesn’t mention is the fact that American mismanagement of the decade-long NATO mission in Afghanistan has already considerably weakened the older ties within the organization… So the dreadful military “adventure” in Libya incited by the self-regarding (and strongly pro-Israeli) French philosopher “BHL” maybe just brings it that much nearer to its final death-knell.
But then, what indeed is NATO’s mission– what is NATO?– now that the Soviet Union has been so long dead and buried? In Afghanistan, George W. Bush and Barrack Obama tried to use NATO as a sort of force auxiliary for the projection of American military power in Central Asia. In Libya, Sarkozy and Cameron have tried to use it as their force auxiliary, helping them to realize neo-imperialist goals defined for them by BHL.
By the way, I missed– but just found– this excellent late-March commentary by the FT’s Gideon Rachman.
- the reality is that the Libyan war is more likely to mark a last hurrah for liberal interventionism than a new dawn. For the brutal truth is that the western powers that are the keenest promoters of the idea will not have the economic strength or the public backing to sustain many more overseas interventions. And the rising economic powers – China, India, Brazil and others – are deeply sceptical about the whole concept.
… Britain and France have maintained the instinct to think globally, without the resources to back it up. Even the US, by far the world’s pre-eminent military power, is signalling strongly that it is losing the will to be the world’s policeman.
In the Victorian age, the British once sang – “We don’t want to fight, but by Jingo if we do/ We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too.” The Libyan intervention feels like a last reprise of that old tune, rather than a bold statement for a new age.
Yes, indeed. Gideon Rachman strikes me as a far more credible guide to the power balances and sensibilities of the 21st century than Bernard-Henri Levy.