NATO Flounders in the Middle East

Never reluctant to poke its nose into regions where it has no commitments or relevance, the Nato military alliance is stumbling round in Iraq, the crucible of Middle Eastern disruption. Following the U.S. drone-strike killing of Iranian General Soleimani and the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Nato’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, came out predictably with expressions of support for the assassinations.

Nobody in the West (and probably precious few elsewhere, other than Iran, if numbers could be independently ascertained) could in any way be supportive of Soleimani and the barbarous forays he directed that resulted in the deaths of so many innocent people. He deserved to be brought to justice — which does not mean that it was morally defensible or legally permissible to kill him.

And please take a moment to think about the driver of the car he was in, who was also blasted to bits. What possible justification could there have been for killing him? It couldn’t be claimed by even Pompeo or Trump that he had been planning to attack America or Americans. This pawn on the board of revenge was killed by a missile fired by a U.S. attack drone. And he will pass out of memory as quickly as the flash of the explosion that blew him apart. But in terms of morality and international law he is just as important as any general, and responsibility for his death lies firmly at the door of the White House.

The obvious course of action in the case of Soleimani would have been to institute proceedings for an alleged international criminal to be brought to the attention of the International Court of Justice (ICC), but we can forget that, because the United States “is not a party to the ICC’s Rome Statute and has consistently voiced its unequivocal objections to any attempts to assert ICC jurisdiction over U.S. personnel.” The fact that the ICC “investigates and, where warranted, tries individuals charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression” is objectionable to the Washington Establishment because it is possible that U.S. citizens could be investigated.

But Stoltenberg, a supposed internationalist, ignores the ICC (which is recognised by only 14 of Nato’s 29 members), and all that he could come up with after the killings was the absurd adjuration that “Iran must refrain from further violence and provocations.”

The violence was a U.S. drone strike. The provocation was a U.S. drone strike. And the fact that Iranian and Iraqi citizens were butchered in Iraq by a drone-fired missile on the orders of a Nato member country appears to mean nothing to the head of that alliance.

Stoltenberg probably doesn’t remember that, as pointed out by a perceptive analyst, “NATO is the only organization in modern history that has had significant involvement in the arrest of people indicted by an international criminal tribunal; NATO was instrumental in assisting with arrests for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia” which in the 1990s was a major development. Unfortunately, Nato has moved further and further away from international conventions and legal requirements — as abundantly demonstrated by its catastrophic war against Libya in 2011 — and has been drawn ever closer to the go-it-alone interventionist style of its most powerful member state.

And now President Trump is calling the shots around the world, which includes demanding that Nato become more deeply involved in the festering quagmire of destruction and despair that the U.S. has created in the Middle East.

Following a telephone call between Trump and Stoltenberg on January 8, Nato issued a statement that “The President asked the Secretary General for NATO to become more involved in the Middle East. They agreed that NATO could contribute more to regional stability and the fight against international terrorism. They also agreed to stay in close contact on the issue. NATO plays a key role in the fight against international terrorism, including through training missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and as a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.”

What exactly does Trump mean by “more” involved in the shambles he has expanded in the Middle East? More troops? More drones? More extermination of innocent people who happen to be earning their living by driving a car?

Trump’s emphasis became clearer the day after he spoke with Stoltenberg, when he told reporters at the White House that “I think that NATO should be expanded and we should include the Middle East, absolutely. We can come home, largely come home and use NATO. We caught ISIS, we did Europe a big favour.” In addition to the staggering irony that, as noted by Reuters, the murdered Soleimani “played a major role in the fight against Islamic State militants in the region”, Trump “joked that the organisation could be called NATO-ME, or NATO plus the Middle East. He said he floated the possible name to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.”

Nato headquarters made no mention of the cretinous “NATO-ME” attempt at humour (if indeed it was that) which is not surprising because some Nato countries were taking action to secure the safety of their troops who Trump’s assassination strike had placed in greater jeopardy of their lives — without informing Nato or any individual member with troops in the region that there was about to be a major escalation in violence in the Middle East.

On January 7 it was reported that some Nato countries were withdrawing and relocating troops, with Germany moving 30 of its 130 personnel out of the country and Romania “relocating” all of its 14 soldiers. Of Croatia’s 21 troops, 14 were moved to Kuwait and seven returned home. Latvia and Denmark sent their troops to Kuwait, but Britain, with Nato’s largest non-US contingent, of some 400, did not announce any action to safeguard its personnel, and prime minister Boris Johnson unconditionally supported the killing of Soleimani, saying “we will not lament his death.”

Nobody expected Johnson or any other western politician to say they regretted Soleimani’s killing, and it was a typical Johnson comment — but there are reasons why Johnson constantly supports Trump, not the least of which is the British economy. (Morality and international law are irrelevant.)

When Britain leaves the European Union it will have to negotiate trade arrangements with many blocs and countries, not the least being the United States. There is therefore no possibility that Johnson would boldly go where many have gone before, and annoy Trump by contradicting him, because the petulant spiteful Trump would immediately refuse to engage in trade discussions.

Nato is on the UK’s back burner, and if supporting Trump’s policies about the Middle East and Nato is politically necessary, then so be it. Johnson agrees with Stoltenberg’s statement that “For me it’s no surprise that the United States is calling for Nato to do more, because that has actually been the message from the United States for a long time. . . We are looking into what more we can do.” But it is most unlikely there could be a Nato consensus about continuing a presence in Iraq, and if Trump demands additional military commitment by Nato countries, as seems apparent from his statement that “We can come home, largely come home and use NATO” in the Middle East he will put Stoltenberg and Nato nations’ leaders in an impossible situation.

Nato is floundering in the Middle East, and the best thing it could do would be to withdraw its military forces from the region. They have achieved nothing, and the future is bleak, to put it mildly. Get out now.

Strategic Culture

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