Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Splitting Alliances: Why the West will Fail with Syria as it once did with Italy

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By Barry Rubin

Reading history I realized a marvelous analogy for current Western attempts to pry Syria from its alliance with Iran. While few remember it today, there was a strenuous British and French campaign during the 1930s to lure Benito Mussolini’s Italy from aligning with Germany. They flattered the dictator and ignored his repression at home and aggression abroad--including his unprovoked assault on Ethiopia--in this effort.

Of course, they failed. One could say that failure was inevitable because of the similarity between the regimes in Berlin and Rome. Consider three additional factors.

First, there was no way the British and French were able to offer Mussolini more than Hitler did. They had neither the power nor the stomach to sell out more countries to Mussolini. Germany could always offer more because it was ruthless and wanted to destroy the status quo.

Second, Mussolini understandably concluded in 1940 that Germany was winning. For years he'd watched Western appeasement and diplomatic retreat. He saw Germany getting powerful weapons without the Anglo-French bloc stopping it. And he witnessed German military victories. He hopped on the German bandwagon.

Third, the West wouldn't ever act in such a way that Mussolini was more afraid of it than of Hitler.

Analogies can be misleading, of course, and analogies to Germany are overworked. Still, this one might have some use in explaining why the West isn’t going to flatter, concede, or pay enough to split an alliance which, after all, has persisted for thirty years and now believes itself the wave of the future.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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