President Obama is to blame for the "hollowing out of the trans-Atlantic partnership", which has degenerated into "empty symbolism" to the effect that "there is no alliance on any of the major issues of the day." This is the thesis of Russell Berman, professor at Stanford and senior policy fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Writing for the popular online magazine The Daily Beast, owned in part by Newsweek, he makes factual errors in his criticism of European contributions to NATO’s Afghanistan mission:
[Obama] was completely unable to convince any European ally to increase troop commitments to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Some, like the Netherlands, have in fact already withdrawn, and others are likely to follow suit. (…) The net effect of the Obama administration policy in this arena amounts to a nearly total Americanization of the war. It’s hard to see the multilateralism in it—nearly as hard as it is to find Europeans on the front lines.
The Daily Beast did not bother to fact check Professor Berman’s claims, choosing instead to misinform their readers and reinforce prejudices against Europe.
1. Russell Berman is wrong in stating that Obama was "completely unable to convince any European ally to increase troop commitments." The fact is: 36 European countries have increased the number of their troops in Afghanistan since Obama became president. Only three European countries have decreased the number of troops. The increase was bigger than the decrease by 9,361 troops.
Assistant Secretary of State Philip H. Gordon acknowledged the European contributions in October 2010, one year after the surge:
In Afghanistan, in the wake of the President’s speech in November 2009, Europe contributed about 7000 additional troops, over 100 training teams for the Afghan army and police, and nearly $300 million for the Afghan National Army trust fund. European nations now have almost 40,000 troops in Afghanistan and the total European contribution to Afghanistan since 2001 comes to $14 billion.
2. Professor Berman is incorrect in writing "Some [European allies], like the Netherlands, have in fact already withdrawn." No European NATO member has pulled out. While it is true that the Netherlands has withdrawn combat units, it still has nearly 200 troops under the Command and Control of COMISAF. In addition, in January of this year the Dutch government announced the deployment of a 545 strong team to train and instruct the Afghan police, which will make a valuable contribution to the Alliance’s counter-insurgency strategy.
3. Professor Berman’s claim that it is "hard" "to find Europeans on the front lines," is wrong and insensitive to the families of dead soldiers.
Since Obama took office, European troops did not just increase in numbers. They also took on increasingly risky missions. US Defense Secretary Gates today paid tribute to Europe’s contributions on the front line:
Consider that when I became secretary of defense, there were about 20,000 non-U.S. troops from NATO nations in Afghanistan. (…) Today, that figure is approximately 40,000. More than 850 troops from non-U.S. NATO members have made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan. For many allied nations, these were the first military casualties they have taken since the Second World War. (…) It is a credit to the brave ISAF troops on the ground, as well as to the allied governments who have made the case for the Afghanistan mission under difficult political circumstances at home.
Research conducted only last year at the University of Cambridge has shown that British soldiers have been killed at a rate nearly four times higher than their United States counterparts. Also see Foreign Policy Magazine’s calculations of troop fatalities relative to the military-age population.
It is understandable that Americans expect more support from Europe in Afghanistan. But if Professor Berman cares about strengthening trans-atlantic relations, he could refrain from making factual errors that alienate Europeans.
Joerg Wolf is founder and editor-in-chief of the Atlantic Review (http://atlanticreview.org), a blog on transatlantic relations sponsored by the German Fulbright Alumni Association.
He currently works as editor-in-chief of the Open Think Tank atlantic-community.org in Berlin.
Joerg studied political science at the Free University of Berlin and worked as a research associate for the International Risk Policy project at the Free University’s Center for Transatlantic Foreign and Security Policy. He has been a Fulbright scholar at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Washington DC and has worked for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Cairo and in Berlin.