NATO & Afghanistan

Written by  //  May 23, 2008  //  Afghanistan  //  No comments

May 23, 2008
America needs to lean much harder on Afghanistan’s President Karzai
IN CONVENTIONAL wisdom it is the “good war” that was neglected to wage the bad one in Iraq. Afghanistan’s Taliban regime had provided al-Qaeda with a haven and refused after the attacks of September 11th to give its leaders up. When America invaded there was no twisting of intelligence, as in Iraq, and no great rift at the United Nations. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both say that one reason to pull American forces smartly out of Iraq is to reinforce a war that is not only more justified but also—given enough troops—more winnable.
The conventional view contains some truth. But whatever the respective merits of Iraq and Afghanistan, it needs adjusting in one vital respect. The NATO forces in Afghanistan are too small, but that is not the chief threat to the West’s purposes there. The weakness and corruption of Afghanistan’s elected government matter more. This weakness, moreover, is not the inevitable product of Afghanistan’s poverty and backwardness, even though these things play a part. It is the result of a failure of political will in Kabul and in Washington. Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai is not doing as much as he should to build an effective administration. And George Bush is not doing as much as he could to twist Mr Karzai’s arm.

December 27, 2007
America Will Ride to the Rescue
NATO’s Convulsions over Afghanistan Don’t Amount to Much — U.S. Reinforcements from Iraq Will Be the Difference-Maker

David Jones, Citizen Special

NATO will never win an award for sartorial elegance. It will never be the “best-dressed alliance;” it is always in disarray. But the ongoing contortions of NATO members over Afghanistan are hardly new; indeed, they are barely the latest twist in a convoluted history approaching 60 years where the rule of consensus among (now 26) members has meant that the lowest common denominator is king.
For a period of 40 years from its creation in 1949 until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the goal was reasonably clear: “Keep the Americans in; the Russians out; and the Germans down.” Or that little aphorism served as a way of saying in trans-Atlantic speak what is attributed to Benjamin Franklin when seeking to inspire colonial unity during the American Revolution, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.”
But the willingness to and interest in sacrifice has never been a constant for NATO members. Throughout the most intense periods of the Cold War, there were endless arguments over “burden sharing” — in particular, how much more should be spent on conventional armed forces. Here the argument was convoluted, almost defeatist. Europeans believed that Soviet/Warsaw Pact forces were potentially so overwhelming that only the threat of nuclear retaliation could fend off invasion.
Thus, when one U.S. diplomat inquired at a meeting why Europeans were reluctant to increase their conventional forces — and fend off the prospect of nuclear war — the response from a German was “we have no desire to make Europe safe for conventional war.” That is, they had no desire to repeat the devastation of the Second World War and preferred to bet that U.S. rapid conventional force reinforcements and nuclear weapons would defend them.
Nor has the end of the Cold War changed European calculus. Regardless of the level of problem, if there is a substantial military challenge, Europeans expect the United States to do the heavy lifting. This has been particularly noteworthy over the past 15 years wherein the U.S. was drawn into orchestrating the survival of the shards of former Yugoslavia. The issues here were akin to being a European domestic squabble — but ended with Robocop USA bombing Belgrade.
Likewise for the NATO response to international terrorism. Following 9/11 there was both a UN mandate and a request for NATO assistance in Afghanistan. The Taliban regime was regarded as one of the world’s worst in every dimension of human rights and civil society; consequently, its removal was a “good thing” — and NATO was willing to engage in what it presumably anticipated would be the equivalent of light housekeeping.
Unfortunately, Afghanistan is the politico-military equivalent of an overflowing cesspool and clean hands among Afghan power wielders are rather rare. Or at least hands clean enough to satisfy the League of Woman Voters equivalents in Europe and Canada.
This has disconcerted NATO-ites who now believe they should not take their militaries out in the rain for fear they might rust. Nor can they absorb casualties higher than what might occur as normal domestic training accidents.
Essentially most NATO members do not feel threatened by terrorism — or at least not existentially threatened. And the corollary from this judgment is that they are unwilling to take “point” in military action in Afghanistan.
Consequently, the Dutch and Canadians (in particular) are saying they have “gotten the T- shirt,” so far as sacrifices in Afghanistan are concerned. It’s time for a little rotation of risk and a better distribution of the bloody burden being shared.
Other Europeans are wiggling desperately to avoid commitments that their populations don’t support; governments may be embarrassed over their obvious evasion of sharing risk, but embarrassment is temporary while a lost election is permanent. Thus it doesn’t matter how much the Afghan leadership pleads for continued assistance or whether polls suggest Afghans support the NATO/Canadian effort.
Ultimately, all concerned appreciate the reality that the United States has the biggest dog in the fight. The al-Qaeda fighters in general and Osama bin Laden in particular used Afghanistan for terror training while the Taliban provided safe haven for the terrorism that resulted in 9/11. The United States simply will not tolerate a return to status quo ante in Afghanistan; this is an apolitical bottom line. U.S. and British forces being withdrawn or scheduled for withdrawal from Iraq are well likely to turn up in Afghanistan. Thus the domestic Canadian argument of a post-February 2009 commitment is more important for Canada and NATO than for Afghanistan.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2007

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