Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Rot At The Top - Eight Years of Awful Leadership

Well, we did it again. Washington wanted to play hardball with Moscow and succeeded only in exposing the weakness of the NATO alliance. As a symbol of Western solidarity, NATO has been left bloated, battered and bruised, largely by American bullheadedness since September, 2001.

NATO's Secretary-General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, has been a total dud. He's great at making grandiose pronouncements that are best quickly forgotten if only to avoid embarrassing the Alliance and Scheffer himself. He failed to rally the member states to make a meaningful commitment to the mission in Afghanistan. Those nations that have shouldered the burden - Canada, Britain, the Netherlands, France and Germany - have pretty much acted on their own rather than as a NATO force. That is reflected in the way each fights (or doesn't) by its own rules on its own turf. That's five out of twenty-seven member nations (how many can you name?). Doesn't sound very impressive, does it? Scheffer, a rotten leader.

There was Tony Blair, Washington's lap dog, its poodle. Blair's career can be summed up with the epitaph, "He went along to get along." He not only vouchsafed Washington's outrageous lies on Iraq, he tossed in his own for good measure. A rotten leader but a good judge of when it was time to get out with his hide intact.

Then, of course, there's the Wrecking Crew. No, I didn't lift that reference from the just released book. I coined it for a photo album I posted on this very blog on 21 September, 2007. If you want an amusing stroll down Memory Lane, check it out.

Ah yes, the Wrecking Crew. Leadership at its very worst. Consistently rotten to the point of perversion. They've squandered their nation's strength and its wealth, harming many to abet the already privileged few. Abroad they took their nation's prestige and goodwill and sold it cheap in pursuit of a radical ideology fomented from a viral hubris. It was a twenty-first century adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Emperor's New Clothes played on a global stage. Applied delusion on a mass scale. Like all such folly it wasn't long before it collapsed under its own weight.

Bush, aided by the sycophant Scheffer, treated NATO as a child might treat a balloon - constantly blowing it up and squeezing it. With no effort to rationalize the Alliance or clarify and redefine its role in a post-Cold War era, Bush just kept on trying to toss in one Eastern European nation after another, a protracted campaign of passive-aggression against Moscow.

History has shown that alliances work best when there exist strong bonds, shared interests and common purpose. In Cold War NATO those elements were obvious and strongly-shared. It was actually a very large alliance, as these things go, and, despite that, it functioned quite well. Post Cold-War NATO is a bloated, clumsy thing progressively expanded through Central and Eastern Europe. There is nothing "North Atlantic" about the ex-Warsaw Pact states now relabelled as our own and very little that could pass for strong bonds, shared interests and common purpose, something evident in all the "no shows" in Afghanistan.

What are the strong bonds and shared interests between Canadians and Romanians or Slovenians? The question answers itself. Are we really willing to send our young men and women to fight over them? Of course we're not and our adversaries, real or potential, know it.

NATO has come to exist more as an extension of American foreign policy than anything else. This may be the undoing of NATO itself for it conflicts with the whole notion of shared interests and common purpose needed to maintain a healthy alliance. It represents the clash of Washington unilaterialism with a supposedly multilateral coalition.

Afghanistan may have marked the beginning of the end for NATO for it demonstrated the Alliance to be a square peg that couldn't be made to fit the round hole. With NATO members shirking "the mission" on a ratio of four to one, it's hard to depict this as a NATO venture at all.

Throughout the Bush years the West has consistently overplayed its hand. Bush overplayed his hand by going into Iraq unnecessarily with entirely predictable and yet, for the supposed leader of the free world, wilfully unforeseen consequences. American military power was never greater than before the first American tanks rolled across the Iraqi border. The occupation of Iraq showed little states that once dreaded America's military prowess that they had less to fear than they had imagined. By using force needlessly, Bush allowed the rise of Iran and the Shiites as the dominant regional force in the Middle East.

Now we have Georgia. Any guesses why Putin and Medvedev are dragging their feet on withdrawing their forces from Georgia? It's because we, once again, have overplayed our hand. Putin has been given a no-risk opportunity to see just what resolve NATO can truly muster when Condi Rice shows up in Brussels to crack the whip on the Alliance underlings. He has so much to gain and so very little to lose by delay and we've played right into his hand. Summer is almost over and Europe is anticipating an urestricted supply of Russian gas to heat its homes this winter. You do the math.

This game isn't over and we can't wish it away. If NATO is to be salvaged it will have to be rationalized with clearly defined purposes and equally clear commitments from its members. There is already talk of a two-tier Alliance - NATO Classic and NATO Lite if you like - which makes more sense as the days, and failures, go by. Organize the member states by commonality of interests and you will inevitably get back to a North Atlantic group (old NATO) and a Central and Eastern European group (new NATO) acting cooperatively but not in lockstep. That, at least, might restore some credibility to Article 5 of the Charter.
Make no mistake about it, the West needs NATO or some similar alliance, to confront the threats and challenges looming this century. There's plenty of trouble coming, everything from resource wars to climate-driven mass migration - enough that we don't have to provoke needless conflicts. We need to take an inventory of what we're about to face and craft a new understanding of what we'll need in an alliance for this cetury.

Our world is undergoing upheaval - environmentally, economically, and geo-politically - that will call out for new leadership. The ideologues have shown themselves unfit to navigate these shoals. We have an urgent need for new leadership with a clearer vision, steadier hand and a lighter touch.

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