Thursday, January 31, 2008

Gaming the Afghanistan War for Political Power

So, Stephen Harper is putting on a grand show of political theater by "threatening" to pull our troops out of Afghanistan if NATO allies won't commit the 1,000 more troops recommended by the Manley panel. In response to Harper's efforts (at least that's how the media is spinning it), Robert Gates sent a "strongly-worded letter" to NATO allies pushing them to send in more troops - one day after a report has concluded that "NATO is not winning in Afghanistan" and after Gates had already said the US would not contribute any more troops. The phone call to Bush by Harper was just for show.

As per that new report:

NATO forces in Afghanistan are in a "strategic stalemate," as Taliban insurgents expand their control of sparsely populated areas and as the central government fails to carry out vital reforms and reconstruction, according to an independent assessment released yesterday by NATO's former commander.
"Afghanistan remains a failing state. It could become a failed state," warned the report, which called for "urgent action" to overhaul NATO strategy in coming weeks before an anticipated new offensive by Taliban insurgents in the spring.

A second, newly-released report comes to the same conclusion.

Defence secretary Robert Gates also had this to say:

In the letter, Gates warned of a looming division of the NATO alliance and of a loss in its credibility, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported.

During Bush's State of the Union speech earlier this week, he announced that some 25,000 US troops would be withdrawn from Iraq this year yet he won't send any more than the 3,200 troops he recently announced will be sent to Afghanistan (1,000 of whom are going into the south where Canada needs help) but, let's take a bigger look at the political game going on here that's costing our soldiers their lives over there.

Back in 2003, neocon Bill Kristol wrote this piece for PNAC warning that NATO had to be reformed. In it, he bluntly stated this:

When President Bush came into office, common wisdom held that, if NATO did expand again, the expansion would be quite limited in scope and number. But it was the president's vision of a "Europe, whole and free" that has led NATO to this day. Moreover, this past summer, at Prague, the administration put forward a number of constructive proposals for reforming and re-energizing NATO. And, finally, and principally at the behest of our European allies, President Bush went to the United Nations in September 2002 and secured U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441. The Bush Administration is not responsible for the current crisis in the alliance.

But he then goes on to note the power struggle between the major EU countries and the US, placing the blame squarely on them for NATO's possible demise.

It's quite obvious that political power in the world is shifting. To think that Bush's illegal war in Iraq and his neocon posturing had nothing to do with diminishing American power and, now, its currency, is typical neocon reasoning.

Kristol continued:

Who, or what, is [to blame]? The answer to "who" is France-and secondarily, Germany. The answer to "what" is the new post-9/11 world to which the U.S. has reacted in one way, and France and Germany in another.

This is not the place for France-bashing. But it is the place to tell the truth. At best, the government of France is uninterested in the trans-Atlantic alliance. At worst, it wants to weaken it. France's priority lies with the European Union and/or the UN-not NATO. And there is no question that many in Paris desire to see a France-led European Union as a counterweight to U.S. power. Germany, a troubled nation with economic and demographic difficulties, and an understandable aversion to the exercise of military and nation-state power, has followed France's lead. The European Union as a whole has embraced a view of the world that is post-nationalist, post-historical, and extremely reluctant to use military force even in a just cause.

The United States is different.
The "distinctly American internationalism" the president has articulated in speeches and in the White House's National Security Strategy-and with which I am in basic agreement-is quite far removed from the "European" view of the world in both the nature of the threats we face and certainly what strategies to employ to deal with them.

Kristol then proposed his vision to deal with the differences but if you look at how the Bush administration has acted since that time (if it truly believed that strengthening NATO would work as a counterbalance to the new EU coalition) its behaviour - especially its abandonment of the Afghanistan mission which was supposed to be the central front in the so-called war on terror as it cozied up to Musharraf - its actions have been anti-NATO. And now, with Canada's request for just 1,000 more troops being met with Bush's refusal to send them in, one can't help but conclude that our soldiers are just pawns in a larger geopolitical struggle.

The question is: how long will we allow to to be used a such while the US and the EU play their political games?

And, as this Canadian Press article notes:

There is a three-letter answer for those searching for a simple, cold-hearted, calculated interest Canada holds in Afghanistan - a dusty, isolated backwater some 10,000 kilometres away.

It all revolves around the U.S.A. After 79 deaths and hundreds of wounded since 2002, Canadians could be forgiven for setting aside the laudable desire to help the Afghan people for a moment to ask: what's in this for us?

Canada has many altruistic reasons for being in Afghanistan, but the one unifying thread that passes through many clear-eyed examinations of Canadian self-interest is its vital relationship with the giant neighbour to the south.

Many experts agree: anything that adds to an American sense of security and puts Canada firmly on side as an ally translates into billions of dollars in benefit for Canadians.

"The reason we're in Afghanistan today is that's where the Taliban supported Al-Qaida as they hatched up the September 11 attacks on the United States," said Bill Graham, a former Liberal foreign affairs and defence minister who played a key role in decisions to deploy Canadian troops.

"We have to help the Americans have a sense that Canada is part of their security solution, and not a part of their problem, or the economic consequences to Canada are significant."

So, just how much are our soldiers' lives worth in the whole scheme of things and what gives our government the right to use them for economic assurances?

The bottom line is that they're being used and our commitment there needs to end sooner rather than later.

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