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"Support Our Troops" - The German Edition

What is common in the United States, is rather rare in Germany: Expressing support of our soldiers in Afghanistan.

While most US critics of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan make extra efforts to distinguish between criticism of the strategy/purpose of the wars and the service of the troops, such differentiation usually is not made in Germany. I have never seen a car with the bumper sticker "Support our Troops."

The Bundeswehr troops do not get much support from citizens, media, celebrities or politicians. Instead many soldiers are concerned about the opinion polls that indicate popular disapproval of the Afghanistan war.

Therefore the Atlantische Initiative (my day job) has teamed up with Germany's biggest daily newspaper and started the campaign "Feldpost für unsere Soldaten!"
 
We encourage our readers and members to write short personal messages of support for the Bundeswehr troops. We will then forward the best ones to the various bases in Afghanistan. Several hundred messages have already been published by our partners at the tabloid Bild.

"Let's Cut Defense Spending"

Strange world: Atlantic Review is not just as a reference in an MA thesis, but is also referenced by E.D. Kain of the neoconservative (?) National Review Online to make the argument that the US should cut defense spending. He is linking to our blog in this paragraph:

Americans provide defense for Europe and much of Asia, allowing Europeans to spend almost nothing on defense while spending lavish amounts on generous entitlement programs. And it is not at all clear that these countries actually want our military bases anymore. Europe has largely put war behind it with the advent of the European Union, and save for the Korean peninsula, Asia is largely moving toward a peaceful, global economy as well. Refocusing our defense priorities into regions that have more direct implications for our own national security, such as Africa and the Middle East, would force Europe to take into account not only the defense of its own soil, but the vast expense associated with that defense. Governments already burdened with extraordinarily high rates of taxation will be forced to make cuts in their welfare programs in order to shore up their defense apparatus.

I disagree. I bet that Germany will not increase defense spending, if the US closes another military base. Previous closures did not lead to increase either. Many Americans like to think that US military bases abroad are protecting the host countries, while majorities (?) in the host countries see the bases as serving primarily US interests.

Whatever the US does, German defense spending declines for domestic reasons. Last week, the German legislative even voted to shorten military service down to six months for budgetary reasons. To me that sounds more like a military internship than part of national defense. Quite a few politicians want to maintain the military service since it supports recruitment for professional soldiers. In the 60s and early 70s the military service was three times as long as it is today.

An interesting statistic that the National Review Online author did not get from us: "Each troop we send to Afghanistan costs the public $1 million per year. That's $1 million siphoned out of the U.S. economy and shipped overseas to the mountains of Afghanistan and the Iraqi deserts." Aha! Since this is the National Review I am tempted to ask the author whether the economy is more important than security? They seem to be moving towards the European position on war versus economy. Is America becoming a post-heroic society just like Europe, this was actually the topic of the blogpost to be referenced in an MA thesis.

US, France and Germany: Divisions and Lack of Professionalism Everywhere

We all need more team spirit. Obama's Afghanistan team is in disarray. Their egos seem to be as bloated as the ego's in the French soccer team.

While President Obama is angry with McChrystal's frank comments and perhaps insubordination, President Sarkozy is reportedly furious over the national team's behaviour inside and outside the soccer stadiums. It was not really a "team." He even cleared his schedule for a one hour meeting with the captain on the day of a general labor strike. That shows how important the soccer team is for France as a symbol of national integration and unity.

Germany's coalition government has been in disarray for months as well with some calling each other "wild pigs" and "gherkin troops" (rank amateurs). (There are also rumors that one cabinet member called the defense minister "rumpelstiltskin.") Though, thanks to the national soccer team's victory over Ghana today, Merkel's government won't collapse yet. ;-)

If Germany had failed to make it into the round of sixteen for the first time in history, it would have been a national fiasco. Let's do not forget that the German coach is not called "Trainer der Nationalmannschaft," but goes by the official sounding name "Bundestrainer," just like the top government titles "Bundeskanzler," "Bundespräsident" etc.

On Sunday, we will play against England. One British fan said on TV that the world cup was invented for England and Germany to play against each other. Good point. Still, it is regrettable (but not at all surprising) that the British tabloid The Sun uses military language to describe the upcoming match. Come on, guys. It's just soccer. The real war is in Afghanistan.

Continue reading "US, France and Germany: Divisions and Lack of Professionalism Everywhere"

DOD Releases Afghanistan Report

The US Defense Department delivered a report to Congress this week providing an update on progress in Afghanistan from the period October 2009 to the end of March 2010.  Titled "Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan", the congressionally mandated report is extensive at 152 pages and covers everything from troop numbers in country to the details of ISAF counter-narcotics policy.

I have not read the entire report yet, but here are some highlights from the Executive Summary:

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Violence is up but Afghanis feel more secure

“Polls consistently illustrate that Afghans see security as improved from a year ago. At the same time violence is sharply above the seasonal average for the previous year – an 87% increase from February 2009 to March 2010.”  The report says that while violence has increased, this is largely due to increased ISAF activity.
 
US, partner-country, and Afghani force levels are increasing

US presence:
 “On March 31, 2010 there were approximately 87,000 U.S. forces and approximately 46,500 international forces in Afghanistan… force levels expected to approach 98,000 by August 2010.”

"The President’s strategy is dependent not only on the application of military capability, but also on increased civilian capacity. Since January 2009, the Department of State (DoS) has more than tripled the number of civilians on the ground in Afghanistan to 992. The increase in civilian personnel is a reflection of the President’s strategy to increase civil military cooperation at all levels of operations."

Continue reading "DOD Releases Afghanistan Report"

Why Afghanistan is More Complex than Iraq

According to NATO Secretary General Rasmussen a comprehensive approach is needed in Afghanistan. He has been very impressed by General McChrystal's understanding of the complex situation:

As soon as I arrived, General McChrystal took me into his briefing room in ISAF Headquarters, and put up onto a big screen a graphic display of all the factors, military and civilian, we had to take into account if we are to succeed, and all the interconnections between them.  There were hundreds of lines, going in every direction.  It looked like someone had dumped a huge pot of cooked spaghetti onto the projector.

MSNBC has published the truly fascinating graphic about all the factors influencing Afghanistan's stability and the Counter Insurgency dynamics. Winning in Iraq seems to be much easier, if you look at the smart and straightforward briefing "How to Win the War in al Anbar," which Capt. Travis Patriquin, 32, created in 2006. It is according to RealClearPolitics "so simple (with stick figure drawings) that even the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee could understand it." He rebelled against the Pentagon's PowerPoint culture, which seems to be so bad that the Armed Forces Journal felt the need to publish an article titled "Dumb-dumb bullets." The NY Times writes today: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint.

Seriously, I guess many points from the stickfigures strategy for Al Anbar could work in Afghanistan, while McChrystal's graphic includes some universal truths that are relevant for Iraq as well. There are obviously many other issues that explain why winning in Afghanistan is more difficult than winning in Iraq. I just thought it was interesting to compare Chrystal's complex graphic with Patriquin's simple one. I guess we need both to explain military strategies.

I pay tribute to Captain Patriquin, who was killed by an IED on December 6, 2006. I think he deserves a lot of credit for the progress in Al Anbar.

Unrelated Endnotes: Presidents Obama and Medvedev issued a joint statement on April 25, 2010 to mark "the 65th anniversary of the legendary meeting of Soviet and American troops at the Elbe River, which became a striking symbol of the brotherhood-in-arms between our nations during World War II."
Moreover, I am happy that the world survived the
boobquake and the Iranian cleric is proven wrong. Well, according to McChrystal's graphic everything is related, so maybe these endnotes are related as well. ;-)

CIA Recommendations for Sustaining West European Support for ISAF

WikiLeaks (HT: Marie-Claude) has published what it calls a Special Memorandum by the Central Intelligence Agency's Red Cell. The document argues that after the fall of the Dutch government "counting on apathy might not be enough," because "indifference might turn into active hostility if spring and summer fighting results in an upsurge in military or Afghan civilian casualties." Unfortunately, the recommendations for shoring up popular support are not as exciting as you would expect from a classified and leaked document. Some examples:

* Some German opposition to ISAF might be muted by proof of progress on the ground, warnings about the potential consequences for Germany of a defeat, and reassurances that Germany is a
valued partner in a necessary NATO-led mission.
* Emphasis on the mission's multilateral and humanitarian aspects could help ease Germans' concerns about waging any kind of war while appealing to their desire to support multilateral efforts.
* Appeals by President Obama and Afghan Women might gain traction.

The United States Has the Best Military Advertisements

Cohu (via German Joys) compares recruiting videos from the German, Austrian and Ukrainian military and also includes a beer company's video ad that is promoting the US military.

While the Ukrainian video is ridiculous, the Austrian copy-cat version is just stupid. The Bundeswehr clip is a typical commercial highlighting the fun aspects of serving in the military, while ignoring everything else.

The American clip is by far the most effective advertisement in my opinion (and cohu's) and did not cost the taxpayer anything. The video shows how Americans appreciate the service and sacrifices of their troops and shows how glad they are that the soldiers made it back home. No triumphant atmosphere. The clip is so low-key and appears authentic and honest. All the mess the soldiers had to live through is somehow included in the atmosphere. That makes it honest and patriotic and an effective promotion. Just my opinion, of course.

Does Germany need such videos showing appreciation? Would such messages work in Germany and increase support for the Bundeswehr's mission in Afghanistan?

Can you imagine a German beer company making such an advertisement with soldiers returning from Afghanistan? (BTW: The Bundeswehr consumed 990,000 liters of beer in Afghanistan in 2007.)

The NY Times's Nicholas Kulish writes that what is happening in Germany is the opposite of what the US commercial shows. There are "no parades for Hans":

Often, as I have passed through the main train station here in the German capital, I have seen the sad, lone figure of a soldier, heavy pack on his back, waiting for a train like the rest of us, but separated from the crowd by the uniform he wears. No one would stop to thank him for his service or to ask whether he had been deployed to Afghanistan. The loneliness was obvious, but at times I even sensed what I thought might have been fear, at the occasional hostile looks the soldier would receive alongside the impassiveness of the broader masses on the platform, who just tried to pretend he wasn't there. (.)

The German men and women in Afghanistan set off for war without the support of the populace, and they know that when they return there won't be crowds cheering in the streets, ready to make heroes of them. Germany has turned its back on hero worship. The soldiers fight alone.

What are the most and the least effective military advertisements you have seen? I am most interested in honest, authentic and or funny ones, like the Danish Norwegian KFOR Boys. Yes, sure, post anti-military advertisements as well, if you like, but no gory stuff, please.

Endnote: This is a great photo contest to increase public support: Why Afghanistan Matters

Denmark Shows How to Get Support for Afghanistan

While the Dutch government broke up over the war in Afghanistan, the Danish establishment seems to be very unified and serves as "an unlikely example of how to maintain public support for the war" writes the Wall Street Journal (HT: Atlantic Community):

"The key to sustaining public support is an elite consensus that includes politicians in government and opposition as well as key opinion leaders: influential intellectuals, academics and columnists," says Dr. Peter Viggo Jakobsen, a security expert at the University of Copenhagen. (.) 

Mr. Gade, a former Danish army officer [who has led Danish efforts to maintain public support], said a key to winning the public was giving reporters deep access to soldiers, who were allowed to talk. When troops say, " 'We did a job and we did it good, and it is worth doing,' then it is very hard indeed for a lot of people to oppose, because those are the men and women who risk their lives," he said.

The article, however, also points out that recently there have been cracks in the coalition and a fall in opinion polls, with, for instance, a major newspaper withdrawing its support.