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How to Keep NATO Relevant?

General John Craddock, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe for NATO, got pretty outspoken about internal and external challenges in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) on October 20, 2008, General Craddock even raised the issue of NATO's relevancy:

A brief look at the will of our alliance in the mission in Afghanistan demonstrates some real shortcomings. In view of the more than 70 national operational restrictions, or 'caveats', and our continual inability to fill our agreed-upon statement of requirements in theatre, we are demonstrating a political will that is somewhat wavering. And it is this wavering political will that impedes operational progress and brings into question the relevancy of the Alliance here in the 21st century.´

Craddock made some good, but hardly surprising suggestions about funding and speeding up the decision-making processes. You can start the debate over at Atlantic Community: How to Keep NATO Relevant?

Atlantic Community is now addressing Afghanistan as a focus topic and also features an article by Morgan Sheeran, veteran of the US Armed Forces with 26 years of service including a tour in Afghanistan: Afghan Surge: More Police Trainers Essential. The first comment below that article is from Florian Broschk, who has been serving four tours with ISAF in Afghanistan. He also taught Dari (the second most popular language in Afghanistan) to Bundeswehr soldiers.

NY Times: "Suddenly, Europe Looks Pretty Smart"

Europe has set the pace for the United States, opines the New York Times (HT: David):

After initially dithering, Europe's leaders came up with a financial bailout plan that has now set the pace for Washington, not the other way around, as had been customary for decades. That was clear when the Treasury Department decided to depart from its own initial bailout plan - the one approved by Congress earlier this month - and invest up to $250 billion directly in the nation's banks. The nuts and bolts of that approach had been laid out days earlier by European leaders as they tried to save their own financial system. And that outcome left Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, in something of a commanding position to claim the title of wise men. They are now speaking of creating a Bretton Woods agreement for the 21st century.

Let's hope this will lead to less derogatory remarks about European "socialism" and welfare waste. Perhaps "European socialism" will even get a positive meaning, i.e. McCain's comparison of Obama to European socialists will not help him win votes.

Well, Europe has not got the financial crisis under control. There will probably be plenty of bad news and more government interventions ahead of us. I wonder who will call the shots in the new Bretton Woods style agreement, if there will be one. What role will China and the various Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds play?

German Newspaper: Osama Bin Laden Feels Like a Winner

Ulrich Ladurner writes in the respected German weekly Die Zeit:

Since the United States is experiencing a crisis of monumental proportions, Osama must genuinely feel that his prophecy has become a reality. More than a decade ago, he set out to vanquish America and its villainous puppets in the Arabian Gulf - nothing more, nothing less. Back then this must have appeared like folly, because the U.S. was at the zenith of its power and Osama and his people were considered nothing more than a fanatical gang of murderers.

Today we are witnessing the rapid decline of the United States, a trend which some consider to be irreversible. Osama has victory in his sights. Whether that's true or not shouldn't be debated here. This is about recognizing that this is the view of Osama bin Laden. This is about catching a glimpse of the world of ideas espoused by these fanatics.

Read the article in the German original or the English translation.

These days, Die Zeit is even more pessimistic about the power of the United States than usually. Jan Ross writes about the Heroes of the Retreat:

How can the land of victories and optimism come to terms with a life after the imperial moment? Learning to decline - is it doable? Can a world power that no longer presumes to dominate the world find a new role without depression or biting fear? Is there life after the imperial moment? That is the question that the United States faces, and that will define the term of the next American President.

WSJ: "Berlin Hearts Iran"

The Wall Street Journal (HT: John):
It's not surprising that Berlin's ambassador in Tehran apparently thought nothing of sending a military envoy to Iran's "Down with Israel" rally. He simply put Germany's mouth where its money already is.
Related posts in Atlantic Review:

Germany's Biggest Bank to Cut Business Ties to Iran

"Germany's Iran Lobby"

A Different Kind of Quagmire: Iran

Political Science Theories on the Likelihood of War between the US and Iran

Endnote: Sorry for the lack of posts recently. Please check out the frequently updated list of recommended articles in the sidebar.

Germany Has to Kick Ass in Northern Afghanistan

Next week the German parliament will vote on the extension of the ISAF mandate. There seems to be a broad majority in favor of increasing the German contribution by 1000 troops to 4500 for the next 14 months.

However, contrary to frequent demands by NATO allies, Germany is not joining the fight against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. And the new mandate will not ease the restrictions on military operations either.

This makes the troop increase a waste of effort, says Ahmed Rashid, the acclaimed Pakistani journalist and bestselling author of "Taliban" and "Descent Into Chaos." Mr. Rashid calls upon Germany to be much more active militarily and politically. The Bundeswehr does not have to go to southern Afghanistan, but it must do much more in the North.

Ahmed Rashid gave a very thoughtful, passionate and captivating keynote speech at the Heinrich Boell Foundation's conference on "Values and Interests in Foreign Policy." Watch the video below:

Germany is not the only country that has to change course drastically and overcome its deep aversion to risk taking. The United States has to leave its comfort zone and enter new territory by talking to Iran about Afghanistan in order to win this regional conflict. This is what Ahmed Rashid told my colleague David Lebhar after the keynote speech. You can watch the interview over at Atlantic Community: "How the US and Germany Can Win in Afghanistan.

Poll: Americans Appreciate Germany as an Ally

The German embassy in Washington DC released a public opinion poll that "shows that Americans continue to have a positive image of Germany as a modern society, home of high-tech innovations and a major international partner of the United States," says German Ambassador Klaus Scharioth. Perceptions of Germany Among Americans:

Many Americans have a very positive view of bilateral US-German relations: a 34 percent overall plurality describes them as "excellent" or "very good". One point Ambassador Scharioth emphasizes is that many Americans view successful economic cooperation as the most positive aspect of bilateral relations (36 percent). They also feel that good diplomatic relations, mutual trust and agreement on foreign policies, as well as defense cooperation (13 percent - an increase of 5 percent, compared to February 2007), are factors contributing to good bilateral relations. (...)

The number of Americans who consider that a perceived lack of German support for the Iraq war is souring German-American relations has gone down by more than half since last year and at 7 percent is no longer an issue. (...)

Americans are also increasingly aware of Germany’s contribution to the fight against international terrorism in Afghanistan. One fifth of all Americans (21 percent) say that Germany plays an important role in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.

What to Conclude from the Townhall Debate?

I think it is great that the US presidential candidates have several televised debates. And I appreciate it, that this US tradition and democratic principle has arrived in Germany in 2002, although here we only have one debate per election. (Please correct me if I am wrong.)

I have read a couple of articles about yesterday's Townhall debate, but apparently it was not too exciting. James Joyner was "bored to tears" about an hour into the debate. His conclusion in Outside the Beltway:

Overall, this was McCain's best debate performance.  It's conceivable that he won it on "points."  The  bottom line, again, though, is that Obama went toe to toe with him and didn't clearly lose.  That's a win given that he went into the debate with a lead and that McCain's hoping to win based on superior seasoning.

What do you think of the presidential elections? Did Obama and McCain give any clues about policy issues that are important for Europe?

Many American friends (incl. our co-blogger Kyle) are enormously interested in this election; even on the border of obsession. Of course, I understand why this election is so special, but I do not share this huge interest and excitement. I am probably even less excited than my fellow Germans.

While there are significant policy, style, judgement, and character differences between Obama and McCain, I am not sure these differences will matter as much as most people think they will. The next president will be less powerful and will have less room for maneuver than past presidents due to the financial crisis and the Iraq war.

FT: "Speed of European Response Leaves US Trailing"

I thought I would never read a headline like this in an Anglo-American newspaper. It was the headline for the "European View" column by Paul Betts in the Financial Times on Tuesday:

In the past 48 hours, various European countries have scrambled to put together bail-out packages for troubled financial institutions in Germany, the UK, France, Belgium, Ireland and Iceland. And while this is by no means the end of the story, it has demonstrated that the European authorities and individual national governments can move very quickly to try to stem a growing crisis of confidence in the European financial system.

In the past 10 days, the conventional wisdom was that Europe would never be in a position to act as swiftly to rescue its financial industry with a comprehensive plan such as Washington's $700bn (?498bn) troubled asset relief programme. Yet the plan has yet to be approved, with all the political modifications demanded by US lawmakers. No evidence has so far emerged that Europe will need to orchestrate a similar plan of such magnitude.

Of course, as Peer Steinbrück, Germany's finance minister, has noted, Europe is not so much seeing a little light at the end of the tunnel but rather the headlights of an oncoming train.