Secretary of Defense Robert Gates expressed frustration with America's European allies, as reported in the Washington Post article, "Pentagon Critical of NATO Allies":
"I am not ready to let NATO off the hook in Afghanistan at this point," Gates told the House Armed Services Committee. Ticking off a list of vital requirements -- about 3,500 more military trainers, 20 helicopters and three infantry battalions -- Gates voiced "frustration" at "our allies not being able to step up to the plate."
In the speech, Gates commends those allies who have largely fulfilled their commitments in the war, specifically Australia, Britain, and Canada. The new Defense Minister of Australia, which is not a NATO member-state but nonetheless a significant contributor to the ISAF mission, echoes Gates' frustration about the Europeans (ABC News):
Australia's new Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon will deliver a blunt message to NATO countries meeting in Scotland on Friday, telling them that there will be no more Australian troops sent to Afghanistan until European countries increase their commitment.
Also, Spiegel Online published a great interview with German Major General Bruno Kasdorf, the highest-ranking German officer at ISAF headquarters in Kabul. This passage caught my eye:
Spiegel Online: From the outside, it often looks as if the aggressive waging of this war is further enflaming the insurgency.
Kasdorf: I repeat: Pulling out of OEF [Operation Enduring Freedom, the US-led military operation in Afghanistan] would not be helpful. It bothers the Americans when Europeans accuse them of waging the war in a brutal fashion. If there were no OEF, the insurgency would gain strength in the country and they would consider themselves unopposed here, which could also threaten ISAF's success. Here at ISAF we don't have the forces to go after the extremists alone.
German anathema of the use of force to deal with the Taliban and al Qaeda reminds me of a guest lecturer I had back in college. He was a pacifist professor who said that if he met bin Ladin, he would give him a hug. The entire class laughed when he said this, because the professor just did not seem to understand: there are some problems you cannot solve with hugs alone.
The best strategy to bring stability to Afghanistan is not black or white; it is not a choice between American bullets or German hugs. The two go hand-in-hand, and trying to frame one as necessary while the other as not is no less naïve than defining countries as "with us or against us". The world is more complex than these basic dichotomies allow.
What frustrates Americans is not only that Germany (and other Europeans) want to cherry-pick the popular and less-dangerous reconstruction projects (though that plays a major role in American and Australian frustration) - but also that these same allies give the impression they are on a higher moral ground than those who are taking on the most dangerous, and equally necessary, combat missions.