Chancellor Merkel attacked suggestions that Germany had taken the easy option in Afghanistan: "We're not just digging wells and building houses; we also have a military mission." Hugh Williamson reports in the Financial Times:
According to Williamson she made those comments in a meeting with foreign correspondents in Berlin. It's bad diplomacy to tell the foreign press that she has no time to consider proposals for better burden sharing in Afghanistan. Usually, Merkel is more careful.
In her most outspoken comments on Afghanistan since Germany came under pressure this month to send more troops, the German chancellor said she had "absolutely no time" for proposals to redeploy Nato troops within Afghanistan.
Perhaps, Williamson misunderstood her... His colleague from the Associated Press wrote only about Merkel's diplomatic excuse for not sending German troops to the south:
"Our mandate is how it is. Beyond the term of the mandate, we have no plan at the moment to go to the south. (...) It would be really bad if we, because it is a little bit quieter in the north, opened up gaps there, went to the south and left a vacuum behind in the north which the Taliban would immediately push into."
Angela Merkel's exact words to the foreign correspondents are not that important. Fact is that she has not done more for Afghanistan than Chancellor Schroeder. Merkel has not increased support for US led policies. The praise she got in the US press after her election in November 2005 was not justified, but merely a reflection of how unpopular Chancellor Schroeder and Foreign Minister Fischer have been among US journalists.
Schroeder and Fischer have supported the Kosovo and Afghanistan wars from the very beginning. Thereby they have changed German defense policy fundamentally. Schroeder's predecessor Helmut Kohl has just written a huge check to support the Iraq war in 1991.
Before Schroeder's election the Federal Republic of Germany has never participated in a war that was not authorized by the UN Security Council (Kosovo) or deployed troops in a NATO mission outside of Europe (Afghanistan), including special forces. All this support for US foreign policy was forgotten, when Schroeder and Fischer dared to express strong public criticism of President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld during a German election campaign that coincided with the US government's campaign for the Iraq war.
Back to the Afghanistan issue:
While the United States (and Canada) are pushing strongly for more European troops, the Afghan government has different priorities: President Karzai has "repeatedly urged Western allies to provide more funds and resources to the Afghan security forces, rather than send more troops," writes Sayed Salahuddin for Reuters. He adds that a government-run daily newspaper accused Karzai of being "under the influence of foreign powers and troops led by NATO" and that "the U.S. must set a firm date for their departure from Afghanistan."
Then again, Karzai is not a great president...
Karzai also rejected Paddy Ashdown as the United Nations special envoy for Afghanistan, although he might have contributed to better coordination among various international agencies in Afghanistan.
Hugh Williamson writes in the above mentioned Financial Times article about Merkel:
She also said "one of the biggest weaknesses" of Afghanistan's reconstruction was the reluctance of Kabul to specify its expectations of the international community's work. Referring to the international training of the Afghan police force, in which Germany had assumed a leading role, she said: "Afghanistan must say more clearly what it wants." Otherwise international support would be wasted.
What is needed is an International Afghanistan Study Group, modeled after the Iraq Study Group. The Afghanistan debate should not be limited any more to the number of troops European and American nations deploy in southern Afghanistan. We need a frank and honest evaluation of all our political and military strategies in Afghanistan. We have to debate fresh and controversial policy alternatives, which include negotiations with the Taliban, the replacement of the Karzai government, incursions into Pakistan, and the involvement of Iran and Russia.
Related Atlantic Review posts on Afghanistan:
Related Atlantic Review posts about the American media's previous love and and admiration of Angela Merkel: