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What a Difference 10 Years Can Make

French foreign policy has not changed that much in the last decade, but some prominent US opinions about Paris have.

I am surprised to read the headline "Can the E.U. become the world's policeman?" in the Washington Post. Anne Applebaum's latest op-ed about French policy in Mali concludes that Americans should "stop giggling about cheese-eating surrender monkeys and start offering logistical and moral support. Europe may not be the best superpower. But it's the only one we've got."

Wow. Thanks. But that's too much praise. Of course, the EU will not, cannot and does not even want to become the world's policeman or a superpower in the foreseeble future.

Still it's nice to read this as we approach the 10th anniversary of the transatlantic quarrels over the Iraq war. On January 24, 2003 the NY Post published the “Axis of Weasel” cover story about France and Germany and a play on George W. Bush’s denunciation of the “axis of evil”. And then there were the Subway ads, which SuperFrenchie campaigned against.

Anne Applebaum assumes that Europe has changed so much since the Libya operation and makes a big deal out of the French intervention in Mali and its context. I think she exaggerates, but she also makes important observations, which will change American perceptions of France:

In other words, the French are in Mali fighting an international terrorist organization with the potential to inflict damage across North Africa and perhaps beyond. Not long ago, this sort of international terrorist organization used to inspire emergency planning sessions at the Pentagon. Now the French have had trouble getting Washington to pay attention at all. Some U.S. transport planes recently helped ferry French soldiers to the region but, according to Le Figaro, the Americans at first asked the French to pay for the service - "a demand without precedent" - before wearily agreeing to help.

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The Unfinished Business After the End of the Iraq War

As an era ends, Iraqis will grapple with their own security while veterans will adjust to the labor market back at home, argues Caitlin Howarth in this guest article:

On Monday, President Obama gave a joint appearance with Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to mark the final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. In announcing the holiday homecoming, the president has made good on his promise to bring the war to an end. For thousands of families welcoming their loved ones home, it is a time for joy; for the country, it is a time for gratitude.

Now is also a time for healing. Both the people of Iraq and U.S. veterans have wounds to heal and relationships to rebuild. The veterans come home to a still-struggling economy, limited jobs, and complex health issues. Iraqis are still picking up the pieces of an infrastructure shattered by war and complicated by sectarian tension; living in the midst of regional upheaval presents no easy road, either. Five years ago, when I studied the smaller pockets of Iraq's sectarian violence, the ugliness of what can happen in a power vacuum appeared overwhelming. The reality of what happens when some people have plenty of weapons and no accountability remains a major concern - and not just among Iraqis.

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Our Wars of Choice Harm our Interests

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, calls for a  doctrine of restoration that "would help the U.S. shore up the economic foundations of its power." He is basically urging more limited foreign policy engagements, which would mean that the US should act more like the European countries.

Haas wants to reduce wars of choice, like the war in Libya. He also blames Obama for turning the war of necessity in Afghanistan into a war of choice, because of targeting the Taliban rather than Al Qaeda. I understand the logic, but wasn't President Bush going after the Taliban as well?

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Europe Does Not Need American Protection Anymore

NATO does very good work every day, but it is "a bit of an anachronism." 9/11 has accelerated the divergence of European and American geostrategic interests. Europe does not need American protection anymore, with the exception of the nuclear guarantee, says Nick Witney, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

He gave an excellent and forthright speech at the Heinrich Boell Foundation's Annual Foreign Policy Conference on the transatlantic security architecture and European defense efforts.

I very much agree with his description of European mainstream perceptions of and positions on security. At a time when so many US journalists and pundits are questioning the relevance of NATO and express their increasing disappointment with the Europeans, I would like to recommend the ten minute video below to better understand why most European countries are not spending more on defense and do not send more troops to US led wars.

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Europeans Are Not Pacifists

Michael Lind of the New America Foundation debunks "the 9 most annoying sky-is-falling clichés in American foreign policy."

First I thought the one about the "pacifist Europeans" is the most boring and stupid of the nine clichés, but then I paused, when I read Lind's reference to Secretary Gates statement on "the demilitarization of Europe." Lind debunks:

The defense spending of major European powers hardly proves them to be doves. As a share of GDP, European military budgets have been roughly even with those of the BRIC countries that are supposed to be the great powers of the future. What really irks Americans who criticize Europe's alleged pacifism has been opposition to the Iraq war or refusal to make greater commitments for the war in Afghanistan. In reality, Europeans are no pacifists; they've simply declined the invitation to play Robin to America's global Batman. European countries spend quite enough to defend themselves -- against real threats.

While we are not pacifists, warmongering is a crime in Germany: The Guardian (HT: Bruce) writes that "a German politician has warned that the CIA informant Curveball could go to jail after telling the Guardian that he lied about Saddam Hussein's bioweapons capability in order to 'liberate' Iraq." And why did the German secret service pay "Curveball £2,500 a month for at least five years after they knew he had lied"?

ENDNOTE: Germany's former foreign minister Joschka Fischer just published his Iraq war memoir "I Am Not Convinced." Just a few weeks after Donald Rumsfeld's memoir. According to another Guardian article, "Fischer accused the former head of the CIA George Tenet of making implausible claims about the handling of the Curveball case by the US."

New Year's Eve: Silly or Serious?

Reposted from December 31, 2007:

It's the same procedure as every year: Millions of Germans watch "Dinner for One" every New Year's Eve since 1972. It is "as big a tradition in Germany as the crystal ball drop is in New York's Times Square," writes Patrick Donahue for Bloomberg. You can watch the 10 minutes British comedy on Youtube. It is so funny, it never got dubbed into German. As Observing Hermann points out: "A bit strange maybe, but aren't most traditions - when they're not yours, I mean?"

Many in the media write every year that this New Year's Eve tradition is strange and that this silly slapstick never got popular in the UK or the US. Of course, I could point out that US upholders of moral standards probably do not like to broadcast all that drinking and the sexual reference in the end. But that is all silly and not important.

The end of a year should be a time for reflection, I believe. It's worthwhile to remember all the unknown people who have done good in the real Marla Ruzickaworld. I try to ignore the many "year in review"-articles that feature silly people that made the headlines.  The media does not write much about the many relief workers in war and natural disaster zones around the world. At least not while they are alive. Marla Ruzicka from California got big press coverage after she was killed in a car bomb explosion in Bagdad in April 2005.

December 31 was her birthday. Read last year's Tribute to Marla Ruzicka and other Idealists Risking their Lives out there. 

Actually, seriousness and silliness serve both their distinct purposes. It's all about finding the right balance in life between work and entertainment. Marla would definitely agree. And with these superficial words of wisdom 2007 comes to an end. Thank you for reading Atlantic Review. Stay tuned in 2008. All the best for the new year.

Iraq War Enhances US Image as a Colonial Power?

Joe Klein in Time Magazine:

Our attempt to construct an Iraq more amenable to our interests will end no better than the previous attempts by Western colonial powers. Even if something resembling democracy prevails, the U.S. invasion and occupation will not be remembered fondly by Iraqis. We will own the destruction in perpetuity; if the Iraqis manage to cobble themselves a decent society, they will see it, correctly, as an achievement of their own.

There are other consequences of this profound misadventure. The return of the Taliban in Afghanistan is certainly one. If U.S. attention hadn't been diverted from that primary conflict, the story in the Pashtun borderlands might be very different now. The sense of the U.S. as a repository of tempered, honorable actions may never recover from the images of the past decade, especially the photographs from Abu Ghraib prison. The idea that it was our right and responsibility to rid Iraq of a terrible dictator - after the original casus belli of weapons of mass destruction evaporated - turned out to be a neocolonialist delusion. 

The US is now seen as a former colonial power just like France and Britain? Is a more positive legacy of the Iraq war imaginable?

Why Afghanistan is More Complex than Iraq

According to NATO Secretary General Rasmussen a comprehensive approach is needed in Afghanistan. He has been very impressed by General McChrystal's understanding of the complex situation:

As soon as I arrived, General McChrystal took me into his briefing room in ISAF Headquarters, and put up onto a big screen a graphic display of all the factors, military and civilian, we had to take into account if we are to succeed, and all the interconnections between them.  There were hundreds of lines, going in every direction.  It looked like someone had dumped a huge pot of cooked spaghetti onto the projector.

MSNBC has published the truly fascinating graphic about all the factors influencing Afghanistan's stability and the Counter Insurgency dynamics. Winning in Iraq seems to be much easier, if you look at the smart and straightforward briefing "How to Win the War in al Anbar," which Capt. Travis Patriquin, 32, created in 2006. It is according to RealClearPolitics "so simple (with stick figure drawings) that even the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee could understand it." He rebelled against the Pentagon's PowerPoint culture, which seems to be so bad that the Armed Forces Journal felt the need to publish an article titled "Dumb-dumb bullets." The NY Times writes today: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint.

Seriously, I guess many points from the stickfigures strategy for Al Anbar could work in Afghanistan, while McChrystal's graphic includes some universal truths that are relevant for Iraq as well. There are obviously many other issues that explain why winning in Afghanistan is more difficult than winning in Iraq. I just thought it was interesting to compare Chrystal's complex graphic with Patriquin's simple one. I guess we need both to explain military strategies.

I pay tribute to Captain Patriquin, who was killed by an IED on December 6, 2006. I think he deserves a lot of credit for the progress in Al Anbar.

Unrelated Endnotes: Presidents Obama and Medvedev issued a joint statement on April 25, 2010 to mark "the 65th anniversary of the legendary meeting of Soviet and American troops at the Elbe River, which became a striking symbol of the brotherhood-in-arms between our nations during World War II."
Moreover, I am happy that the world survived the
boobquake and the Iranian cleric is proven wrong. Well, according to McChrystal's graphic everything is related, so maybe these endnotes are related as well. ;-)