Club Eastern Med

The Eastern Mediterranean might not have been subject to so much frenzied attention since Alexander was fighting his way out of Greece, across Anatolia, and deep into the Levant on his way to conquering the known world. The anchors of the ancient eastern Med then were Greece to the north and Egypt to the south. Today, those anchors weigh down a sinking ship.

Or maybe a better historical precedent can be found in 1941-42. The Nazis had taken Greece in April to protect their Balkan flank (and to shore up the Italians), before invading the Soviet Union. They even took the island of Crete — with its vital airfields capable of threatening British shipping — in a brutal airborne assault. Meanwhile, Rommel’s Afrikakorps threatened British control of Suez, and its lifeline to India. Hitler’s Balkan adventure forced a delayed start to Operation Barbarossa, which might have cost him Moscow, and ultimately the war. The fate of the free world didn’t quite hinge on the Eastern Med, but it was close.

Greece just held an election which determined little more than which party gets left holding the bag, and if they leave the euro tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. There’s nothing left to loot, so I don’t understand why the socialists even tried. Maybe they sill held out some hope of getting more money out of the Germans. Athens might get something, but not nearly enough to fill the hole they’re is in. There’s only hardship ahead.

Egypt is also holding an election, which will determine… hell if I know. The Army and Hosni Mubarak’s old clique (but I repeat myself) have proven remarkably adept at hanging on to power. Honestly, I thought they would loot the treasury and emigrate to France under cover of night. So there seems to be some small chance they might have Egypt’s best interests at heart. It’s just difficult to see them accomplish anything much, other than to keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of power. And if that’s all the hopenchange Egypt will get, why did anyone bother getting rid of Mubarak?

As David Goldman has noted already, Egypt imports half its caloric intake, and its foreign reserves are shrinking. Something’s got to bring the tourists back (and their dollars), and the Muslim Brotherhood ain’t it. That’s your Egyptian Spring right there. If the generals succeed, Egypt will plod on as before — right up until the next time the streets explode. It seems Egypt has a choice between starving now or starving somewhat later, and that it’s only a matter of time before the Islamists take control of the angry, hungry rump of what was once a great civilization. The consequences of a failed state of some 80 million, mostly illiterate, are truly, deeply sucky.

And Greece? The Greeks, for a few short years, got to pretend to be not quite so poor. Now, no matter who wins, they’ll have to go back to being poor — poorer than they were at the start of the failed euro experiment. There’s no way out for Greece, except for exiting the euro, default, and going back to a drastically weakened drachma. This is the fundamental truth Europe’s leaders have been trying desperately to avoid for four years. But the day of reckoning is here at last.

The fate of the free world still doesn’t hinge on the Eastern Med — but it’s close. A fractured, hungry Egypt could prove to be Israel’s biggest security threat since the Egyptian Army forced the Suez in 1973, and provide a breeding ground for generations of radicalized Islamists. Greece, as everyone has been discussing for months, could prove the first domino in the sequence which knocks down the euro — and the US economy, too. I don’t care to imagine a recession that begins with underemployment at almost 15% and a third of all mortgages underwater and trillion-dollar deficits. Because we all know where that ends — somewhere along the shores of the Eastern Med.