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Posted by on Nov 11, 2009 in International, Media, War | 0 comments

Afghanistan: Blame Game instead of 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.

Yes, 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.”

Cross-posted from Atlantic Review, the Press Digest for Transatlantic Affairs

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