It was said upon the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in April of 1949 that NATO's purpose was three-fold: to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down.
In the 1960s, French President Charles de Gaulle removed his forces from NATO joint command, feeling slighted by the U.S. and Great Britain. He built his own Force de Frappe — a three-pronged strike force designed to rain nuclear destruction on the Soviets in a quick response to any attack on La Belle France.
France, however, remained a member of the alliance, though NATO headquarters had to be moved from France to Belgium. There are now 28 member nations, including several from the former Warsaw Pact, an alliance forged under Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe.
NATO's purpose 62 years after its birth is much different now. The Soviet Union collapsed, America has no plans to pull its forces out of Europe, and the Germans, chastened after following Hitler and his grisly gang into the resumption of the First World War, have become a people despising war, eager to demonstrate their humanity.
What is NATO for these days? As we see in the Libyan adventure, its primary purpose is to help the world hegemon — us — in any way we see fit. In Libya, it is to pretend to run the no-fly zone designed to force Col. Moammar Gadhafi to either cry uncle, be removed by his cronies, succumb to the rebel rag-tag "army," or, I don't know, be carried away by a coronary occlusion.
As we heard from President Barack Obama in his belated explanation of what we're doing over there, we're the ones with the military assets to get the job done, but we're going to make believe that we aren't really the ones attacking another Muslim nation that hadn't attacked us. It's the other guys, the ones over there, and furthermore the Arab League signed on to this.
We're not Great Sataning anybody with this "kinetic military action," we're preventing a massacre of — pick a number — say, a hundred thousand innocent civilians in Benghazi.
If anybody knows about the killing of innocent civilians, it is our government and military. We're experts. We even do it now with pilotless drones, delivering death on demand in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sometimes we blow up the bad guys, sometimes it's, oops, there goes another wedding party or some boys working in a field.
A "pilot" sitting in an air-conditioned room at an air base in Nevada "flies" his or her Predator, and when called upon unleashes Hellfire Missiles at authorized targets. This is modern war. When we acknowledge killing people other than certified bad guys, we write a check and apologize. Sure, that would be enough for me. How about you? I didn't think so.
Crazy old Gen. Stan McChrystal himself said that for every Taliban we kill in Beserkistan, we create 10 new ones. Maybe that's why his former boss, Gen. David Petraeus, says this war we're in is going to last through our lifetimes and maybe our kids' lifetimes.
That's terrific news.
Back to NATO: Member nations, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, are helping us pass out the bribes, hunt down bad guys and try to persuade skeptical Afghan peasants that they should take our side in the fight — even though they know that in the end we'll be gone and they'll have to answer to the fanatics, who'll still be there.
NATO is also a very big business, providing thousands of careers to military bureaucrats and buying and selling munitions all over the globe.
France now takes the Russian threat so seriously that it has sold four Mistral assault ships to what's left of the empire NATO was created to thwart. It's all quite bizarre. Stanley Kubrick or Paddy Chayefsky would have a ball parodying these things taking place in our time, but, alas, they are no longer among the living.
Meanwhile, Mr. Gadhafi can't last much longer, and soon we'll be trying to put his country back together again. How do I know that? Because our president said we wouldn't engage in nation-building there. That means we almost certainly will. One thing I've learned over the years is that when a president tells you he didn't have sex with that woman, or says "mission accomplished," or says "The era of big government is over," it's smart to bet the other way.
Ron Smith's column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.