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McCain on Obama's AfPak Metrics

Senator John McCain finds Obama's metrics for evaluating progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan too vague, writes Foreign Policy:

"It's just not the level of detail that we had hoped for," said McCain. "We need more substance ... we're going to have to pressure them to give us some more." For example, the document lists as one Afghanistan metric "support from allies." "It's like that old joke 'How's your wife?" McCain quipped. "Compared to what?"

Smart and funny comment.

US-German Tensions over Airstrike in Afghanistan

Berlin and Washington might be switching positions in the blame game over civilian casualties. “An airstrike by U.S. fighter jets that appears to have killed Afghan civilians could turn into a major dispute between NATO allies Germany and the United States, as tensions began rising Sunday over Germany's role in ordering the attack,” reports the Washington Post.

Another Post article published on MSNBC argues:

The decision to bomb the tankers based largely on a single human intelligence source appears to violate the spirit of a tactical directive aimed at reducing civilian casualties that was recently issued by U.S. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the new commander of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. (…)

A NATO fact-finding team estimated Saturday that about 125 people were killed in the bombing, at least two dozen of whom — but perhaps many more — were not insurgents. To the team, which is trying to sort out this complicated incident, mindful that the fallout could further sap public support in Afghanistan for NATO's security mission here, the target appeared to be far less clear-cut than it had to the Germans. One survivor, convalescing from abdominal wounds at a hospital in the nearby city of Kunduz, said he went to the site because he thought he could get free fuel. Another patient, a 10-year-old boy with shrapnel in his left leg, said he went to gawk, against his father's advice.

But: The article also points out that local officials are more concerned about Taliban activity than the airstrike casualties:

“I don't agree with the rumor that there were a lot of civilian casualties,” said one key local official, who said he did not want to be named because he fears Taliban retribution. "Who goes out at 2 in the morning for fuel? These were bad people, and this was a good operation."

A few hours later, McChrystal arrived at the reconstruction team's base in Kunduz. A group of leaders from the area, including the chairman of the provincial council and the police chief, were there to meet him. So, too, were members of an investigative team dispatched by President Hamid Karzai.

McChrystal began expressing sympathy "for anyone who has been hurt or killed."  The council chairman, Ahmadullah Wardak, cut him off. He wanted to talk about the deteriorating security situation in Kunduz, where Taliban activity has increased significantly in recent months. NATO forces in the area, he told the fact-finding team before McChrystal arrived, need to be acting "more strongly" in the area.

Old Europe Drifts out of Recession First

The Economist:

Figures released on Thursday August 13th showed that the euro area's GDP shrank by just 0.1% in the three months to the end of June, far less than the 2.5% slump in the previous quarter. The near stability was the result of an early exit from recession in the region's two largest economies. The economies of both France and Germany grew by 0.3% in the quarter, surprising analysts who had expected the figures to show small contractions in output for both. As badly as these economies have suffered in the past year, there will be some pride that the economies have started to grow before those of America or Britain.

The Obama Administration's Engagement of Europe

President Obama has made "an unprecedented three trips to Europe during his first six months in office (including heavy lifts in Turkey and Russia)," writes Damon Wilson, Director of the Atlantic Council's International Security Program. Yet, most of his praise goes to Vice-President Biden, who flew four times over the Atlantic to make major policy announcements:

He proclaimed the Russia reset policy in Munich and previewed the administration's AFPAK review at NATO - and tackled the toughest issue on the continent: how to advance a Europe whole and free that includes the Balkans and Europe's East.  He has advanced a vision for Europe that has long enjoyed bipartisan support, but over which many, including some in the administration, have cooled as we've hit more difficult tests with Ukraine and Georgia.

Wilson concludes that Biden's four trips have helped define the Obama Administration's policy toward Europe. Moreover, rather than repudiating George W. Bush's Freedom Agenda, "Biden is rebranding it to ensure that its objectives in Europe sustain bipartisan support." Is it too early to evaluate this "rebranding" or the new administration's policy in general?

Obama and Merkel are "Trans-Atlantic Frenemies"

"The White House views the chancellor as difficult and Germany is increasingly being left out of the loop," is the conclusion of a good Spiegel International article by Gregor Peter Schmitz and Gabor Steingart. According to them, the "Washington of Barack Obama" considers Merkel's policies "as hesitant. And when it comes to economic matters -- particularly after the experience in battling the financial crisis -- they don't feel she has much expertise."

The label "difficult" is attributable to Merkel's refusal to allow then-presidential candidate Obama to hold a speech at the Brandenburg Gate last summer. They also found it rude and impolitic when she didn't accept an invitation to meet with the newly elected president at the White House in April, despite that fact that both sides had been able to find time in their schedules for a meeting.

Reuters' chief correspondent Noah Barkin, however, puts the blame for the non-meeting on Obama.

The Spiegel article continues to quote two experts on Merkel: According to Dan Hamilton, director of the Trans-Atlantic Center at Johns Hopkins University, German "checkbook diplomacy" is currently experiencing a renaissance. And Stephen Szabo, head of the Transatlantic Academy in Washington, is cited: "France is in right now. The impression is that Germany isn't really of much use at the moment. (...) Paris is no replacement for Berlin in the long-term. (...) The Americans will need the Germans again in their dealings with Russia. After the German elections a new era will begin."

Merkel got back-rubs from Bush, but she gets only a cold shoulder from Obama

Chancellor Merkel is "agonising over a series of slights (perceived or real) from Obama," opines Reuters' chief correspondent Noah Barkin (HT: David)

First came the message from Washington that Obama might not continue the regular video conferences Merkel held with Bush. In the end the White House came around, but it took two months to set one up.

Berlin also got the cold shoulder when Merkel tried to arrange a trip to Washington ahead of a G20 meeting in London at the start of April. Messages from Berlin with proposed dates went unanswered for days until Merkel’s team abandoned the idea completely, an official close to her told me.

This week came the latest signal, at least from Berlin’s perspective, that the Obama team is not taking German concerns seriously. The rescue of Opel, the German unit of U.S. car maker General Motors, has become the central theme of a slow-to-get-started German election campaign that pits Merkel against her Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. A misstep on Opel and Merkel’s bid for a second term could be doomed. But when she called an “Opel summit” for Wednesday to try to save the car maker, her ministers were shocked to see only low-level representation from the U.S. Treasury — a crucial player in the discussions.

Soccer Diplomacy with Iran?

"We had ping pong diplomacy with China, and now we may soon engage in soccer diplomacy with Iran. Reports out of Tehran indicate that the US Soccer Federation has inquired about the possibility of holding a friendly with Iran sometime in October and November," writes Democracyarsenal.

America's next ambassador to Germany might come from the Board of Directors of the US Soccer Foundation... Germans are certainly going to support soccer diplomacy with Iran.

Atlantic Review has written about Soccer in German-American Relations. Also see these posts about the world cup in Germany to understand the importance of soccer to world peace: Germany's National Holiday and the "Summer's Tale" Documentary, U.S. Soccer Captain Praises Party Atmosphere in Germany and State Department Uses the World Cup to Improve U.S. Image.

Afghanistan: The Huge "If"

"U.N. sees progress for Afghanistan in 2009" is UPI's headline for an article by its correspondent Daniel Graeber.

It turns out, however, that a qualifier is missing in that headline. After all the article is based on a big "If" in a quote by Kai Eide, the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan:

If we can manage to strengthen the positive work now under way, and implement what we have agreed on, if additional troops can bring the insurgency on the defensive and if we can hold elections that have the credibility required to be accepted by the population at large, then 2009 could well be a turning point,

That's a huge "if," isn't it? Have you seen bigger "ifs" recently? Are you optimistic of pessimistic regarding Afghanistan's future?