What about Syria, Iran's outpost in the Arab world? Despite gruesome pictures of mayhem and sizzling rhetoric from impeccably Third World-sanctified sources, most Kofi Anan-fearing UN-worshippers have been curiously quiet. We seldom hear the phrase "responsibility to protect" (a.k.a., "R2P") except, occasionally, from U.S. State Department spokespersons, who don't quite mean it.
Just to make this clear: R2P isn't my dogma; it's the UN crowd's. Why so low-key, fellows? Has Mr. Putin's cat got your tongue?
Or are you worried that calling for the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad's murderous regime in Syria would lip-synch you with al-Qaeda's current chieftain, Ayman al-Zawahiri? Or with the Muslim Brotherhood's own resident humanitarian, Yusuf al-Qaradawi? So it might -- but since when do people fighting a fire worry about the character of the next hand on the bucket brigade? Volunteers don't care if the fellow handing them the bucket is the perpetrator of the Texas chainsaw massacre; whoever helps put out the fire is a comrade for the duration. As for tomorrow, well, it's another day.
Over 150 years passed since Lord Palmerston observed that England has no eternal friends, only eternal interests. Choosing allies is a luxury nations can rarely afford. Chance and geography throw people together, and they select friends and enemies as circumstances dictate.
Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that he would hold hands with the devil to defeat Hitler, and so he did. Beelzebub being personally unavailable, FDR shook hands with the closest substitute he could find at Tehran and Yalta -- and J.V. Stalin was certainly close enough. The great American president died with the monstrous marshal holding his hand, figuratively speaking, a few weeks before Hitler blew out his brains in his Berlin bunker.
Could Roosevelt and his allies have defeated Hitler without holding hands with Stalin? They didn't think so, and it was their call. We mandated them democratically to decide (at least our grandparents did), and they did. Second-guessing is pointless -- not that pointlessness has ever stopped us. We may not guess too well the first time, but we're champions at second guessing.
We've held hands with all kinds of devils since the Second World War. Politics, intended to be a quest for the good, has more often been just a quest for the lesser of two evils. Even the devil has trouble finding Stalin-class disciples, so Western democracies satisfied themselves holding hands with evil spirits of the second rank, hoping that the junior grade fiends that Western democracies were sponsoring were better, or at least no worse, than the full-fledged fiends against whom we were supporting them. Some probably were (the colonels of Greece, the Kuomintang, Augusto Pinochet) and others were not (Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein). Dealing with such ex-allies later was costly, though not as costly as having to deal with the intrinsically belligerent fiends who took the place of clients we abandoned, such as the Shah of Iran.
Who knows if we could have saved Iran from the ayatollahs -- but we didn't even try. By the late 1970s, we were part of a new culture that got its start 20 years earlier. I'll risk sacrificing nuance and describe this new culture as having evolved from (A) the oldest doctrine of foreign policy, which is supporting friend against foe, through (B) the newer Cold War doctrine of supporting the lesser evil against the greater evil, to (C) the latest scary doctrine of trying to achieve moral leadership by supporting foe against friend, especially nasty foe against nasty friend.
The triggering event was the Suez crisis, which began in the summer of 1956 when Egypt's military dictator, Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser, arbitrarily abrogated a treaty, nationalizing the Suez Canal and closing it to Israeli shipping. These were acts of war, and the British, French, and Israeli reaction anticipated Clint Eastwood's classic: "Make my day."
The brief military campaign was a debacle for Nasser. The Soviets egged him on but never had any intention of helping him, and by the fall were too busy repressing the uprising in Hungary to even think about it. It was the Eisenhower administration that saved Nasser's bacon, aided by Canada's Lester B. Pearson, in those days not an airport but the minister for external affairs. He used the occasion to invent a peacekeeping concept for the UN, opening a dubious door to an international order we may all come to rue. Pearson winning the Nobel Prize for Peace did little harm, but having a leading democracy (Eisenhower's) save a military dictatorship (Nasser's) by forcing three allied democracies (Britain, France, and Israel) to withdraw, and regarding this outcome a moral victory for democracy, had done much damage.
In the Middle East, it has engendered suspicion, confusion, and disdain for the naïve ways of the American paper tiger, making the U.S. seem more useful as a foe than as a friend. In America and Europe, by delegitimizing any defensive action in the Gulf region as neo-colonial, it may have contributed to the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979 and may yet contribute to the survival of al-Assad. Ideas are not just a pretty face.