Vice President Joe Biden traveled this weekend to Munich to cajole Europeans into committing more troops to Afghanistan, while NATO Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer Saturday complained: “I’m frankly concerned when I hear the United States is planning a major commitment for Afghanistan but other allies are already ruling out doing more.”
France and Germany, however, which, pace Russia, sacrificed in the 20th Century more of their citizens’ lives to military madness than any other Western countries, do not seem much inclined to dispatch more bodies to be shot and blown to shreds in a region that challenged even Genghis Khan, and in recent decades saw the British and Russians beaten like gongs.
In public, Biden kept his remarks fairly generic.
“I come to Europe on behalf of the new administration … determined to set a new tone not just in Washington, but in America’s relations around the world,” Biden said. “America will do more. That’s the good news. The bad news is that America will ask for more from our partners as well.”
European politicians warily waited to hear details of the new US administration’s plans for Afghanistan, where many are reluctant to contribute more troops to a NATO-led mission.
Such details, at least in public, have not been forthcoming, at least as of this writing. Thus, German Chancellor (they really need to get rid of that title) Angela Merkel could intone that “international conflicts can no longer be shouldered by one country alone,” while refusing to commit her nation to more Afghan troops.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy, meanwhile, “argued for a Europe more ready to defend itself instead of relying on others, but also managed not to touch on the Afghan troops issue.” Little wonder. The day after Obama’s inauguration, French Defense Minister Herv? Morin bluntly ruled out shipping any more Gaul bodies to Afghanistan: “We have made the necessary effort. Considering additional reinforcements is out of the question for now.”
In dispatching any troops at all to Afghanistan, Merkel and Sarkozy both defy the will of the people who elected them: public-opinion polls consistently show that more than two-thirds of the people in both nations want their soldiers to come the hell home.
The Germans have deployed 3500 troops in Afghanistan, and say they absolutely cannot go higher than 4500, the number they have previously committed. The German troops are stationed in what American news reports often term “the relatively calm north” of Afghanistan, a description which belies the characterization of Germany’s own Der Spiegel, which last September noted:
For years, Germans have preferred to see their country’s presence in Afghanistan as armed development assistance. That myth is now becoming more difficult to maintain as the violence spreads to the north where the Germans are based.
Slowly but surely, the war is creeping into the north, where things had been relatively calm until now. Since 200 German paratroopers were transferred to Kunduz last spring, the Bundeswehr has significantly strengthened its presence–to the irritation of the Islamist fundamentalists with the Taliban. But “normal businesspeople, namely drug dealers, also find the checkpoints and military presence extremely disruptive,” says a representative of Germany’s Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) in Kabul.
Germans have been killed by suicide bombers and roadside bombs, and their bases are afflicted by nighttime rocket attacks. As Der Spiegel notes: “Attacks on German patrols have become so common that most incidents are hardly even noticed in Germany.” The de facto ruler of the area occupied by the Germans, Mullah Salam, doesn’t seem to like them much. He told Der Spiegel:
All attacks “in the holy war against German soldiers in Kunduz” were being conducted under the “direct command” of the notorious Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. “Anyone who occupies our country on behalf of the Americans,” Salam continued, “must be killed, whether they are Germans, Turks or from any other nation. The Germans are the main aggressors in the north and have stooped to being America’s paid puppets.”
The Germans have already behaved so badly in Afghanistan that common decency commands that they get out. As I diaried on this site in December 2006, German troops in Afghanistan have festooned their vehicles with Nazi emblems; mounted skulls on the hoods of their patrol vehicles; pressed their weapons to the temples of Afghan boys, laughingly enacting “mock executions”; and photographed a “comrade” extending his erect penis towards the opened jaw of a human skull. All this confirming the sense of Normal People that Germans in uniform should not be allowed beyond their own country’s borders for, oh, another 1000 years or so.
But no. I open up my google to find that not only are there German soldiers in Afghanistan, they are also now being allowed into FUCKING FRANCE!
Not even the sporadically Napoleonic Sarkozy seems inclined to shovel more Frenchmen into Afghanistan. Sarkozy does seems to be working out some sleazeball deal that will permit French generals to run a couple of NATO posts in the US in exchange for a French commitment of an additional 800 troops to NATO, but there is no sign that he is reckless or self-destructive enough to commit those soldiers to Afghanistan.
The French parliament voted last September to retain the 3300 troops France had dispatched to Afghanistan, a vote necessitated by French ferment over an August ambush of French troops in Kabul province—the costliest single military loss for France since 1983, when the French also rashly trotted at the heels of the US into an ill-advised Middle East conflict, and for their trouble got 58 of their people blown to bits by a Lebanese suicide bomber.
In the wake of this disaster, the French people wanted their men and women out of Afghanistan, but the parliament, controlled by Sarkozy’s party, voted to authorize their continued deployment, while covertly spreading word that the French troop commitment would not increase. This was not exactly the response the French people were looking for, after their mortifying Afhgan mini-Dien Bien Phu, but they decided not to take to the streets . . . yet.
Eventually that will happen, if Sarkozy persists in speaking like a burnt Bush:
“Why are we there? Because it is where a large part of the world’s freedom is being decided. This is the place where terrorism is being fought. We are not there to fight against the Afghans but with them, not to leave them on their own to fight the dark forces of barbarity.”
Speaking of Dien Bien Phu, George McGovern in a piece for the Washington Post warned Barack Obama that “the promise of your brilliant campaign for the White House and the high hopes of the millions who thronged the Mall on Tuesday to watch you be sworn in could easily be lost in the mountains and wastelands of Afghanistan.”
As you settle into the Oval Office, Mr. President, may I offer a suggestion? Please do not try to put Afghanistan aright using the U.S. military. To send our troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan would be a near-perfect example of going from the frying pan into the fire. There is reason to believe that some of our top military commanders privately share this view. And so does a broad and growing swath of your party and your supporters.
True, the United States is the world’s greatest power—but so was the British Empire a century ago, when it tried to pacify the warlords and tribes of Afghanistan only to be forced out after excruciating losses. For that matter, the Soviet Union was also a superpower when it poured more than 100,000 troops into Afghanistan in 1979. They limped home, broken and defeated, a decade later, having helped pave the way for their nation’s collapse.
McGovern, together, with George Polk, in September 2006 floated a perfectly reasonable program for ending the occupation of Iraq. Nobody much paid attention to it, as nobody much will pay attention to his warning on Afghanistan. George McGovern is one of those people who will receive attention in the histories, not in his own time.
With eyes wide shut, the Obama administration intends to increase the American presence in Afghanistan to 60,000 troops, more than twice the number currently deployed. In this he will blunder into the trap liberal Democrats set for themselves when–not wanting to appear “weak” on “terror” while opposing the occupation of Iraq–they elected to talk tough on Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, Afghanistan. John Kerry sounded a similar theme in 2004, but, thanks to Miss Ohio, was not forced to act on it; Obama will be.
He wades into a world where the British have concluded that “American strategy is doomed to fail,” where the former chief of CIA counterterrorism has concluded that the increasingly successful resistance to Operation Enduring Fiefdom is led by warlords formerly in the employ of the CIA, and thus “we have assumed the place of the Soviets.” A world where, as Der Spiegel reports:
The situation is extremely tense, as evidenced by the fact that more than 4,000 Western and Afghan troops were needed last week to move a giant turbine less than 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Kandahar to the embattled Helmand Province, where it will be installed in a new hydroelectric power plant. Despite the helicopters, armored vehicles and fighter jets defending it, the Taliban repeatedly attacked the convoy.
A world where reality is this:
“The foreign forces are ensuring the survival of a regime which would collapse without them . . . They are slowing down and complicating an eventual exit from the crisis, which will probably be dramatic . . . .
“The current situation is bad; the security situation is getting worse; so is corruption and the Government has lost all trust . . . .
A cocked, absurd world, where Western troops attempting to overrun the country serve there under the aegis of NATO–the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an outfit intended to “promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area.” Problem is, Afghanistan is nowhere near the North Atlantic. It is landlocked, and located in Central Asia. NATO’s functional reason for being was to protect Western Europe from the Soviet Union, but the Soviet Union has been defunct since 1991, and has not bothered Afghanistan since 1989. In Afghanistan, as in most of the rest of the world that does not consist of NATO member countries, NATO is increasingly seen as what it clearly is: simply the most recent manifestation of “white people telling us what to do.” And it’s time for those white people, in Afghanistan, at least the ones with guns, to go home.