Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A free pass away from the front: a caricature of a NATO future split into boom-boom for the Americans and handing out bonbons for the Europeans

For the first time in years, said one of those attending [the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Oslo in May], Denis MacShane, a Labor member of Parliament and a former minister of state for Europe in the British government, no Europeans got their heads banged “for not dying and refusing to pull their weight.”
This prompts John Vinocur to ask:
Could that be, he was asked, because the war in Afghanistan was now fully, nonblushingly America’s, even Obama’s?

“Right on the button,” Mr. MacShane said. “The tactics and materiel and commanding general are changing. The emphasis is on special operations. The Americans just don’t need it anymore, this other long battle persuading the Germans, Spanish and Italians to get out and fight.”

Another official, from Continental Europe, requesting anonymity, said he considered the circumstances ones that brush the quasi-historical: in his view, the United States has de facto abandoned the idea of asking Europe to go to war while the administration re-Americanizes the conflict in Afghanistan.

… Pierre Lellouche, who is special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan for President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and who is a former president of NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly, has offered a very critical view of the International Security Assistance Force.

In “L’allié Indocile,” his book about France’s return to NATO’s operational command, he writes that the system for allied engagement in Afghanistan gave individual participant countries “the freedom not to fight and not to make war.”

According to Mr. Lellouche, these countries’ caveats — like fliers’ being restricted from medical evacuation missions after dark, or trainers’ being barred from accompanying their Afghan trainees into combat zones — has meant a “striking” division of labor between the soldiers who are “‘bureaucrats’ forbidden to leave their bases and bunkers” and the “combatants” (think of the British, Canadians, Dutch, Danes and French among the non-Americans).

Mr. Gates and Mr. Obama — the president seemed concerned about these circumstances during his election campaign — now appear to have rationalized them.

I was told by a Brussels diplomat that Vice President Joseph Biden actually informed NATO representatives in February that their countries were not going to be asked for what they couldn’t deliver.

It was, in substance, a free pass away from the front.

… After the president’s trip to a NATO summit in April, a participant close to the U.S. military wondered aloud at a symposium on European-American cooperation if “military-to-military relations are being undermined by the distinction between those who fight and those who don’t?”

For sure, the military missions in support of civilian development and training are central to restoring order in Afghanistan. And indeed America’s experience in Iraq and greater technical capabilities were elements prompting the administration to seize control of the war effort. But a system with high- and low-risk armies legitimizes a caricature of a NATO future split into boom-boom for the Americans and handing out bonbons for the Europeans.