Some NATO Allies in Afghanistan Should Just Stay Out of The Fight
I guess today is German Day at The Desk (see headline grab, right.) While the rest of the world is talking about Michael Jackson and Iran, I’m thinking about Germany. Great.
But it’s for good reason. The New York Times has a story about German Chancellor Angela Merkel being in a tough spot at home because of her country’s involvement in Afghanistan. German soldiers are dying in a war that nobody in Germany wants any part of, and some don’t even want to call a war.
“If things get rough in Afghanistan, and I can’t believe they won’t, you’re going to see real questioning about Germany, what kind of ally they are,” said Robert E. Hunter, a senior adviser at the RAND Corporation and an ambassador to NATO under President Bill Clinton. Yet Mr. Hunter added that, given Germany’s pacifist reaction to its Nazi past, the country’s armed presence in Afghanistan represented progress, if not enough to satisfy critics.
“They have, one step at a time, been getting their feet wet more,” Mr. Hunter said.
The deep unease over military engagement can be seen in the political bickering that has broken out in recent days here over whether to use the word “war” to describe the conditions in Afghanistan. Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung told German radio, “If we speak of war, then we are only concentrating on the military aspect in the region, and that is a mistake.”
Allies like Germany could probably better serve the NATO coalition by not fighting. It’s not that they’re bad at war, it’s just that politically, every time one of their soldiers dies, there is a firestorm back home. As a result, battlefield commanders become hesitant to take risks or become shackled by ridiculous rules of engagement.
US commanders have told me that this is annoying and unhelpful.
But there are many governance, training and reconstruction jobs that NATO allies would be well suited for. While not as safe as a Berlin beer garden, these jobs aren’t as dangerous as clearing valleys of insurgents or air-assaulting into Helmand.
This job cannot be done by the US and UK alone, (though I’m not sure what the definition of “done” in Afghanistan really is.) All members of the coalition have a role, but if the folks at home–whether that be Paris, Rome or Warsaw–don’t support what their armies are doing here, their soldiers aren’t going to be playing that role very long.