What’s the point of NATO, other than pushing the US into wars? (San Fransisco Examiner, by Gene Healy, 05/03/2011)

logo San Fransisco ExaminerJust when you think you’ve reached maximum possible cynicism about politics, you discover that, actually, you haven’t been cynical enough. We got dragged into Libya by our NATO allies, who aren’t competent to run a proper air war against a crumbling Third-World autocracy and are now complaining that we’re not doing more to bail them out.

France was especially eager for war: first to recognize the rebel “government,” and first to fire shots over Benghazi. “France has decided to play its part before history,” President Nicolas Sarkozy pompously intoned.

Credit or blame goes to French celebrity-philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy, who “in the space of roughly two weeks,” the New York Times reported, got “a fledgling Libyan opposition group a hearing from the president of France and the American secretary of state, a process that led both countries and NATO into waging war.”

Who is Bernard Henri-Levy? He’s heir to an industrial fortune and a crusading leftist who favors open-collared shirts, stylishly long hair and “humanitarian” wars.

His 2006 book, “American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville,” was so condescending about America’s “derangements,” “dysfunctions” and “hyperobesity” that it roused NPR’s Garrison Keillor to a fit of patriotic ire. The normally placid “Prairie Home Companion” host called Henri-Levy “a French writer with a spatter-paint prose style and the grandiosity of a college sophomore.”

And yet Henri-Levy helped entangle this country into a conflict that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admits “isn’t a vital interest for the U.S.”

Since we turned command over to NATO, the British and French have been running short on laser-guided munitions and pleading with the U.S. to do more heavy lifting. But if our NATO allies can’t get the job done, maybe it’s because they’ve become military moochers, free-riding off America’s lavish defense budgets. The U.S. now accounts for nearly 75 percent of NATO members’ overall military spending.

What are we doing in NATO anyway? Maybe it made sense in 1949 to put aside our distrust of “entangling alliances” in order to confront the Soviet threat. But that threat disappeared two decades ago.

Today, the alliance’s main functions seem to be in forcing the U.S. taxpayer to subsidize Europe’s generous welfare states and periodically embroiling us in conflicts such as Kosovo and Libya that we’d be smarter to avoid.

Examiner columnist Gene Healy is a vice-president at the Cato Institute and author of “The Cult of the Presidency.”

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