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Afghanistan: Blame Game rather than Great Game

Who is to blame that we are not winning in Afghanistan? Karzai, Obama, NATO, the Europeans, or Jimmy Carter again? Afghanistan's President Karzai was criticized a lot lately. Now the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens comes to his defense and puts the blame on NATO. He makes the dubious claim that:

Matters went abruptly south in Afghanistan after several years in which they had gone swimmingly well under Mr. Karzai, including a thriving economy, girls back in school, people having access to health care and so on. The answer has a lot less to do with Mr. Karzai's performance than with NATO's.

"Abruptly south"? "Swimmingly well"? Oh please! Perhaps Stephens was like most of the US media so fixated on Iraq and domestic politics that he ignored Afghanistan.

Yeah, sure, I wish NATO had been more successful in Afghanistan, but let's not forget that the United States first did not want NATO's help in Afghanistan, because the Bush advisors thought that NATO was not up to it, then they asked NATO to play an ever bigger role anyway because they wanted to focus on Iraq and thought they needed NATO's help in Afghanistan.

If the US had not pulled resources from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2003 and 2004, then Afghanistan and Pakistan might be in a better shape today. If this turns into a new transatlantic blame game, the Europeans will focus on US neglect of Afghanistan in the early and very decisive years.

John Hannah blames NATO more strongly in Foreign Policy:

Despite repeated assurances from Washington, the Afghans palpably feared that the transition to NATO reflected the start of America's ultimate withdrawal from Afghanistan. Psychologically, this perception of declining U.S. commitment almost certainly had the dual effect of dangerously demoralizing the Afghan government and people (resulting in counter-productive hedging behavior), while emboldening the Taliban.

Similarly, the Pakistani government -- believing the United States to be once again headed for the Afghan exits -- was encouraged even further in its double game of maintaining an "option" for returning a friendly Taliban to power in Kabul.

Militarily, the shift to NATO, particularly in the south, undeniably resulted in a significant loss of combat effectiveness on perhaps the war's most important front. While America's British, Dutch, and Canadian allies fought valiantly in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, they were no match -- frequently by their own admission -- for the extraordinary fighting skills of their U.S. counterparts.  With only some exaggeration, a senior Afghan official once told President Bush that 800 U.S. troops had generated a greater sense of security and well-being among the population in Helmand than 8,000 NATO forces.

Very interesting. (Emphasis was added by me.)

Still, the opposite argument can be made that America's heavy reliance on airstrikes has harmed the US image in the region and contributed to the rising insurgency. Only recently the US reversed its policy from focusing their "extraordinary fight skills" on insurgents to providing security for Afghans. The US army is now doing the kind of "social work," which Europeans got ridiculed by parts of the US media for. It seems US strategy is now more in line with European ideas. Without NATO troops the United States would need to rely even more on airstrikes and cause more civilian casualties.

Former US Ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter and Leo Michel from the National Defense University have written a good reminder on the importance of allies Keeping our Allies on our Side, which starts with a great quote by Winston Churchill: "There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies and that is fighting without them."

American Success in Iraq Shuts Europe Up

"If someone had said two years ago that the US would have largely withdrawn its forces from Iraqi cities by now, he would have been called naive," writes German journalist Christoph Suess. Europeans did not believe that the Iraqis would be able to handle their own security so soon. They (we) "completely ignored all successes on the ground" and "did not want to confess that maybe the US did in fact achieve something in Iraq."

Read his op-ed on American Success in Iraq Shuts Europe Up.

Europe Does Not Care about Iraq

The Kansas City Star published the fascinating eight-part series A Good Exit: Leaving Iraq by Matt Schofield, who travelled to Baghdad, Berlin, Istanbul, Leavenworth and Washington. Matt was kind enough to seek my expertise as well. In fact, the article U.S. and Iraq need more help, less indifference from Europe starts with some quotes from yours truly:

The Germans don't care. The French don't care. The Dutch don't care. Even the British, who had been the staunchest ally of the United States inside Iraq, now seem to believe that what America broke, America bought.

"Iraq isn't on our priorities list," explained Joerg Wolf, editor-in-chief of the Berlin-based Atlantic Initiative, a trans-Atlantic think tank. He noted his opinion was based on a recent survey of 250 European policy experts. "The belief is that this is now a U.S. problem, and the U.S. has to fix it."

But Wolf and a growing number of European policy experts believe this is a huge mistake. "The fact is, if Iraq turns south, there are major consequences for Europe."

The above mentioned survey was actually conducted in September 2007 and included responses from 14 policy analysts from ten European countries, but interesting and still relevant nevertheless: Here are the links to the survey's three parts:

1. European Analysts Want America to Stay in Iraq

2. Europe Should Help, But Not Follow US Lead and

3. Premature US Withdrawal Would Threaten Europe.

Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and the Nameless Aidworkers Around the World

When Marla Ruzicka got killed in Bagdad on April 16, 2005, many US newspapers had long and impressive obituaries about the founder of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), who convinced Congress to create an Iraqi War Victims Fund.

Rolling Stone Magazine described her as a "youthful representative of a certain kind of not-yet-lost American idealism" in a good, balanced and heart-wrenching biographic article. The Boston Globe wrote:

Virtually alone, she directed attention and resources to the invisible victims of war. She moved the military without using force, galvanized official Washington without powerful connections, and motivated the press without sensationalism.

Four years later not a single newspaper reminds us of her untimely death, according to Google News, even though CIVIC is still very active around the world and blogs as well.

Unfortunately, the media does not write much about the many relief workers in war and natural disaster zones around the world. The nameless humanitarians, who don't just talk and write, but risk their lives to help others don't get awards or much press coverage. Their sacrifice is often only acknowledged, when they get killed or as a statistic, like earlier this month, when several media outlets covered the new report from the Overseas Development Institute (pdf), which states that 2008 was the most dangerous year on record for humanitarian aid workers:

Last year 260 humanitarian aid workers were killed, kidnapped or seriously injured in violent attacks - the highest annual toll on record. Kidnappings have increased 350% since 2006 and the fatality rate of aid workers from malicious acts surpassed that of United Nations peacekeeping soldiers in 2008.

More about Marla Ruzicka's accomplishments in these Atlantic Review posts:

Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and other Idealists Risking their Lives out there 

"Sweet Relief" - A New Book about Humanitarian Activist Marla Ruzicka 

Marla Ruzicka: Civilian Victims of War

Friends don't let friends drink and drive

Interesting quote at the end of the above mentioned A Fistful of Euros post:

Friends don't let friends drink and drive; neither do they help friends get into open-ended two-front wars. Europeans are entirely right to behave as if Iraq and Afghanistan had erased US credibility, and to expect it to be earned back rather than freely given.

Has Gerhard Schroeder ever phrased his opposition to the Iraq war into this "Friends don't let friends drink and drive" theme? I guess, he sort of did when in 2002 he called the planned Iraq war an "adventure" and said that being a friend does not always mean saying "yes."

Britain to leave Iraq (in shame?), increase troops to Afghanistan

In an anticipated move, Gordon Brown announced that the remaining 4,100 UK troops will leave Iraq by the end of July.  Mr. Brown is quoted by the BBC:
I feel that the task that we set out to do is being done and that's why we can take a decision to bring most of our forces home.
The Times Online is less cheery, characterizing Britain’s withdrawal as “a humiliating proposal that lumps the once-valued deployment with five smaller contingents, including those of Romania, El Salvador and Estonia.”

Continue reading "Britain to leave Iraq (in shame?), increase troops to Afghanistan"

Germany's Federal Minister of Economics Visited Baghdad

Do we have to apologize to The Wall Street Journal for not covering this?

The most remarkable aspect about the German economics minister's trip to Baghdad Saturday [July 13, 2008] was how unremarkable it was. The "surprise visit" by Michael Glos to Iraq, which only last year was deemed irrevocably lost, hardly made the front pages even in his own country. "The security situation has improved," Mr. Glos said, "and democracy is progressing." [...] "I have numerous companies with me," Mr. Glos told a German radio station from Baghdad. "They are practically the advance party for others who will hopefully soon come to Iraq to participate especially in the privatization."

"Curveball" Talks (or rather: Lies) Again

"Curveball" is the Iraqi exile whose lies were key to the Bush administrations case against Saddam on alleged WMDs, although US intelligence agents were not allowed to talk to him. He was an informant of the German Bundesnachrichtendienst. Thus many Americans criticized Germany later on, when they realized his stories about WMD were nonsense.

Michael Stickings writes that "Curveball" has now spoken publicly. Michael isn't impressed and concludes in The Moderate Voice:

The Bush Administration didn't get it so wrong because of Curveball, however much of a liar he may have been, but because it didn't seem to matter to the warmongers from Bush on down whether they got it right or wrong at all. There were ample warnings questioning Curveballs credibility, as well as the credibility of other such sources, but the warmongers believed what they wanted to believe, so rooted were they in their own fanaticism, and didn't let anything like the truth get in the way.

Still, I wish German and American intelligence agencies would cooperate more so that politicians cannot later blame the other country's agencies for misinformation, but that is probably too much to expect. Well, sometimes they work well together: German spy received US medal for support to combat operations in Iraq in 2003 and German Intelligence gave U.S. Iraqi defense plan.