Now faced with a new global threat, that of terrorism from Islamist extremists, we could sure use some of that type of creative and bold thinking. What would George Marshall and Dean Acheson be doing now? At the top of their list, I suspect, would be forging a new version of NATO. They might call it MATO: the Mideast Antiterrorism Organization, a military, police, intelligence and security mutual-defense alliance between the West and our moderate allies in the Middle East. ~Walter Isaacson

We certainly could use some bold, creative thinking.  So why is it that every single proposal put forward by people who talk about the “different kind of war” we’re fighting and the need for new and creative ideas sounds like a canned propaganda spiel from the 1950s?  If these people are not falling over themselves to make WWII references and make hints about their opponents’ desire to appease Nazislam (this seems to be some Europeans’ answer to our idiotic neologism of Islamofascism), they invoke Cold War precedents…for a war that is supposed to be unlike all previous major conflicts.  This is an understandable impulse, but whatever it is it isn’t “bold and creative thinking.”  If Marshall and Acheson were around today, I would be sorely disappointed in them if the best they could do was to cook up another version of NATO.  First of all, it’s been done already and it was done to counter the particular threat of the USSR.  Therefore, it is probably unsuited to combating jihadis, who are not preparing a massed tank charge through the Lachin Corridor or some other blunt, conventional attack that would be readily checked by anything resembling NATO. 

Mr. Isaacson is talking about a security cooperation and mutual defense pact, which sounds interesting at first, but has at least one glaring problem: it assumes that the “moderate” allied states regard the Quartet of Malevolence (Secretary Rice has listed them: Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas), or whatever we’re calling it now, as their enemies.  That would mean that Jordan would declare itself hostile to Hamas (which would cause the monarchy endless problems at home), the “Iraqi government,” so called, would declare itself hostile to Iran and Hizbullah (probably bringing about the assassination of whichever prime minister was stupid enough to sign the treaty) and Turkey, let’s say, would declare itself hostile to Syria.  This last opposition might in turn reignite the conflict that nearly led the two to war in 1998.  If the alliance includes Israel, as Mr. Isaacson suggests, I think it is safe to say that few other states would join.  Even the Turks, who have established a military alliance with Israel, are much less enthusiastic for their current arrangement than they once were.  Tightening those connections would likely go over very poorly in modern Turkey.  

Another obvious flaw is the name.  No one will respect something called MATO.  It’s not even a proper acronym.  Mideast Antiterrorism Organisation gives you MAO, which will hardly play well with voters here at home.  “I’m proud to say that I voted to ratify the MAO Treaty,” a Senator will say.  His audience will gasp: “You voted for Mao?  Communist!  Traitor!”  You think I’m kidding, don’t you? 

Most annoying is this line by Ms. Isaacson:

Another challenge would be to ensure that the new alliance does not inflame the sectarian divide in the Islamic world, which could happen if it is seen as a Sunni cabal against the Shi’ites.

It wouldn’t just be seen as a Sunni cabal.  That’s exactly what it would be (plus the odd, unlikely membership of Israel and, of course, the U.S.).  The only reason why all these disparate states would feel the need to join together under a formal treaty arrangement is that they feel threatened to one degree or another by Iran and fear the growth of specifically Shi’ite power within their lands and abroad.  Since he likes Cold War models,  his worry about fomenting sectarianism would be like the founders of NATO worrying that it might “be seen” as a fundamentally anticommunist organisation.  You should certainly hope that it would “be seen” this way, since that is one of the reasons why it came into existence.   It is fine to worry about fomenting sectarianism, but then perhaps it would be better to not commit to a policy of hostility towards the major Shi’ite players in the region.

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