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Some Good News for a Change: Afghanistan's Pop Idol

The Taliban had banned music and 99% of everything else that is fun. Now, an Afghan version of the "American Idol" called "Afghan Star" has been broadcasted for seven seasons. Millions are watching and voting for their favorite singers by mobile phone. For many this is their first encounter with democracy. A documentary from 2009 follows "the dramatic stories of four contestants as they risk all to become the nation's favorite singer."

Watch the latest show from this week: 

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Our Wars of Choice Harm our Interests

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, calls for a  doctrine of restoration that "would help the U.S. shore up the economic foundations of its power." He is basically urging more limited foreign policy engagements, which would mean that the US should act more like the European countries.

Haas wants to reduce wars of choice, like the war in Libya. He also blames Obama for turning the war of necessity in Afghanistan into a war of choice, because of targeting the Taliban rather than Al Qaeda. I understand the logic, but wasn't President Bush going after the Taliban as well?

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"German Soldiers Can't Shoot"

The Daily Beast published the article German Soldiers Can't Shoot by German journalist Stefan Theil about "Leaked reports question the competence of the German army, which has thousands of troops serving in Afghanistan":

"German soldiers mostly don't know how to use their weapons." They "have no or little experience driving armored vehicles." For German field commanders, "the necessity and ways [to protect their units from roadside bombs] are to a large extent either unknown or incorrect." These are quotes from a series of secret internal reports on the German army, the Bundeswehr, whose 5,000 soldiers in the northern Kunduz sector of Afghanistan were supposed to help the U.S. rout the Taliban and stabilize the country over the past 10 years.

The reports are from 2009 and 2010 and were leaked to the Bild, a German tabloid that is Europe's highest-circulation newspaper. [Bundeswehrbericht enthüllt: Afghanistan-Soldaten können nicht richtig schießen] But they are an indication of the poor state of the Bundeswehr, which only two years ago even started fighting in Afghanistan. Before that, they weren't allowed to shoot except in self-defense, and only after they had shouted repeated warnings in the local language.

Only two years ago? Hm, I thought the policy change was earlier, but I must have been mistaken.

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Europe's Contributions to Afghanistan Should be Recognized

Four Bundeswehr soldiers were killed in three attacks in Afghanistan's North in the last two weeks. Two in three Germans want their country to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of the year. The German government, however, stays the course. (Focus Magazine in German.)

Why? Because of a threat from Afghanistan to Germany? No, Al Qaeda and its affiliates do not need a safe haven at the Hindu Kush, but can plan terrorist attacks in Hamburg etc. As Ahmed Rashid notes, "not ever, has an Afghan Talib been involved in global jihad."

Rather, we have invested so much in Afghanistan, that we cannot afford to see it all fail. Moreover, we are still in Afghanistan after nine years as a matter of solidarity with NATO and especially with the United States due to the 9/11 attacks.

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"Afghanistan now awaits its Fulbright"

Comparisons between Afghanistan and Vietnam are becoming popular again. Will Senator John Kerry walk in Senator Fulbright's footsteps?

Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote in the Washington Post:

Afghanistan now awaits its Fulbright. It is time for the Senate to make an independent review of the war, and to challenge - as Sen. J.William Fulbright did during the Vietnam war - a president unwilling to end a conflict he knows will not be won. Surely, it is fate that the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is Sen. John Kerry. Nearly 40 years ago, as a brave, decorated, young Navy lieutenant returning from Vietnam, he challenged senators to do their duty, saying that each day "someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn't have to admit something that the entire world already knows . . . that we have made a mistake. . . . How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"
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"The Silent Partner" Who Does not Care

"An American drone killed eight German citizens in Pakistan [last] week. Germany's non-reaction says volumes about its role in the war on terror," writes Cameron Abadi in Foreign Policy and concludes "Judging from their eerie silence this week, Germans generally seem willing to let America handle the world's dirty work abroad." It's a great article and I recommend fully reading it and some of his links.

I tend to agree with him, but I also have the impression that the German public does not worry about terrorist attacks in general. They do not consider the US as acting on Germany's behalf and doing "the world's dirty work abroad."

Even the NATO mission in Afghanistan is not given credit for uncovering and disrupting the plot to attack European targets. I have not heard or read a statement in Germany along the lines of Con Coughlin's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal: The Afghanistan War's Dividends in Europe (Free access, if you use Google search): 

"The main reason we can identify these plots and implement measures against them is because of the extensive military and intelligence-gathering infrastructure we have invested in the region," a senior NATO officer in Kabul told me following reports of the latest al Qaeda scheme. "But it is doubtful we would have the same ability to track the plots and respond to them if we suddenly reduced our presence in Afghanistan."

German parliamentarians find it increasingly difficult to tell their voters why they always vote for extensions of the Bundeswehr mandate for Afghanistan, but they don't use the disrupted terror plot aimed at European cities (Paris, Berlin) as a chance to convince voters that our participation in the Afghanistan mission has made us safer. Or what am I missing here?

ENDNOTES: Reuters: "Italy could begin pulling out troops from Afghanistan next summer, the foreign minister said on Tuesday, as the nation mourned four soldiers killed in an insurgent ambush at the weekend.

Germany was elected to the UN Security Council for the next two years. (Canada, I am so sorry!) So, Germany might be less quiet in the years to come. Remember the "fun" we had in the run up to the Iraq war? Any chance for a deja-vu regarding Iran in 2011 or 2012?

"I hear only praise"

Wall Street Journal interview with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle:

Q: Some NATO Allies complain about the restrictions Germany has imposed on its troops in northern Afghanistan.

A: I hear only praise and recognition of the successful work of German women and men, meaning not only the soldiers, in Afghanistan. 

Is Germany's Foreign Minister deaf or is the Obama administration too polite for Germans too understand the criticism? Or has Obama's Afghanistan team (political and military) given up on Germany and thus only says nice things? (HT: ACUS)

Survey Finds NATO Remains Popular in the US

Given waning support for the Afghanistan mission, a sentiment among many Americans that the US is putting far more relatively into both Iraq and Afghanistan than it's partners, and regular arguments from media pundits that NATO no longer has relevance in a post-Cold War world -- I was surprised to read this in The Chicago Council on Global Affairs' 2010 national survey of public opinion on foreign policy:
Americans... continue to show support for involvement in NATO, one of America’s most enduring military alliances. Only 13 percent favor decreasing the U.S. commitment—essentially unchanged from 2004. Sixty-six percent (66%) favor keeping the current U.S. commitment to NATO “what it is now,” while 10 percent would like to increase it (down 4 points from 2004). (p.15)
The report is titled Constrained Internationalism: Adapting to New Realities.  Overall, the 83-page survey finds that American's still support a strong international role for US foreign policy, including militarily.  The following excerpt comes from the introduction to chapter one, titled "Reevaluating Priorities across a Changing Global Landscape":
With a painfully slow recovery, persistently high unemployment, and diminished tax revenues, the United States has fewer resources to direct toward international efforts.

Abroad, Americans see a shifting international environment in which the United States is less dominant, China’s power is growing, and the world is gradually moving toward a more multipolar order. Yet while such a change does engender some anxiety, this international realignment is not something that Americans are inclined to resist. In fact, they have favored the United States playing a less hegemonic role in the world for some time now, and thus they appear ready to adapt to it.

Overall, Americans are standing by their internationalist views and major commitments, even as they scale back their ambitions and become more selective in what they will support in terms of blood and treasure. (p.11)