Anatole Kaletsky writes in the The Times about Tony Blair's troubles and Gordon Brown's options. He describes what German monetary policy in the early 90s and U.S. foreign policy today have in common:
Mr Major's failure as a prime minister was down to a fatal policy mistake: his decision to keep Britain in the ERM [= European Exchange Rate Mechanism] regardless of cost. In doing this, the Tories effectively handed control of monetary policy to the Bundesbank, just as Mr Blair has subordinated foreign policy to the White House. (...) Like US foreign policy today, German economic policy in the 1990s was run by a pair of arrogant but incompetent ideologues. Theo Waigel and Helmut Schlesinger, the German Finance Minister and Bundesbank President, were to economics what Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are to the art of war. The German leaders of the early 1990s managed to turn their once-great economy into the sick man of Europe, just as Mr Rumsfeld and Mr Cheney have reduced America from a military superpower to a paper tiger. (...) To my mind, Mr Blair's truly unforgivable crime was not the invasion of Iraq. (...). No, Mr Blair's crime was to continue backing President Bush after it became obvious that his policies were criminally negligent, politically cynical and doomed to failure. Mr Blair was the one man in the world who could have forced President Bush to back Colin Powell, sack Donald Rumsfeld, close down Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and launch a serious drive for Palestinian statehood.
Considering the lasting impact of the ERM disaster on British attitudes towards Europe (on top of the already existing Eurosceptism/-phobia), what long-term impact will Blair's foreign policy have on British attitudes towards the United States?
"Some of America's closest Nato allies have abandoned Washington on the key battleground of the War on Terror, the bloody struggle against Islamic militants for control of southern Afghanistan," writes The Times (HT: Kathy):
Five years after the world stood "shoulder to shoulder" with America in the aftermath of 9/11, The Times has learnt that many of the countries that pledged support then have now ignored an urgent request for more help in fighting a resurgent Taleban and its al-Qaeda allies. Turkey, Germany, Spain and Italy have all effectively ruled out sending more troops.
Captain's Quarters is one of many American blogs that makes a good point by saying "The same nations that scolded us over our supposedly unilateral approach now refuse to answer the phone when NATO calls on them to meet their pledges of troop support", but is wrong in suggesting that German troops should "redeploy" from the "quiet north" to assist NATO allies in the south. Sending additional troops is a fair demand, but redeployment makes no sense, since the north is far from being "quiet," and indicates a lack of appreciation for the hard and challenging work of the Bundeswehr in the north of Afghanistan. The impression of a "quiet north" is reinforced by the German defense ministry which refuses to tell German journalists about attacks against the Bundeswehr. Conservative bloggers have criticized that the media "emboldens the terrorists" and demoralizes the public by writing so much about the daily attacks in Iraq. Therefore, they should be glad that the German defense ministry keeps quiet about the attacks in the north rather than "helping the terrorists" and demoralizing the German public. Having said that, of course, the south is much more dangerous. Besides, the Bundeswehr mission does include assissting NATO allies in the south, when needed.
The Bundeswehr has been deployed in Afghanistan since January 2002. In February 2003 the Bundeswehr mandate was increased to a maximum of 2,500 troops and in October 2003 increased again to a maximum of 2,900 troops. Most European countries have contributed far less troops to Afghanistan in recent years. Britain has only recently increased its troop strength of 1,200 to 5,400 to re-establish order in the South. Poland only promised a few days ago to finally increase its committment from currently 100 military police to 1,000 almost exclusively combat troops. Poland should be applauded for this huge contribution. Simon Tisdall writes in The Guardian about NATO's difficulties to get more troops and has this to say about Germany:
"Germany, with about 2,800 troops in Afghanistan, was already involved in "sharp-end" operations in the north and had quietly contributed special forces to counter-insurgency missions further south, said Constanze Stelzenmüller, a security specialist at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. "There is already a very robust engagement. And although there is public criticism, there is an understanding that we have to get the job done. What we are seeing is very usual. Nato can't quite bring itself to commit sufficient forces. But everyone knew that once Nato took over from the US, things would get a lot tougher. One reason is the drug trade. It is not a counter-insurgency on the scale of Iraq. It's more about money and local warlord power than ideology." Stabilising Afghanistan was "do-able", she said. And she predicted Germany would do more if necessary.
The pressure to provide more help to NATO in the south of Afghanistan has certainly increased, but the Bundeswehr does not have many troops or money to spare. Austria, Belgium, Norway and others could do more, see related post: NATO's Increasing Involvement in Afghanistan.
In its cover story "Axis of the Feeble", Britain's Economist analyzes the hard times that have befallen both George W. Bush and Tony Blair, who "have been improbable soul-mates, the silver-tongued British barrister and the drawling Republican from Texas." Indeed,
this prime minister is as close as any British Labour leader can come to being an American neo-conservative. […] Over the past year, however, the debacle in Iraq and problems at home have turned both leaders from soaring hawks into the lamest of ducks. […] Neither man is going right away. Mr Blair may hang on for another year […] Mr Bush will stay in office until January 2009. […] But an era is plainly drawing to an end. […] The self-confident and often self-righteous political partnership that shaped the West's military response to al-Qaeda and led the march into Afghanistan and Iraq is now faltering. What does this mean for the wider world?
Nothing much, seems the author to suggest. On the one hand, "the president has found a new European friend in Angela Merkel", on the other hand, "many of Mr Bush's other foreign allies, such as Spain's José María Aznar and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, have lost their jobs." What's most important, though, according to The Economist, Mr. Bush
must ensure that America is not bundled out of Iraq before its elected government has a chance to stand on its own feet. He must hold the line against a nuclear Iran. He needs to push harder for an independent Palestine, continue the fight against al-Qaeda, resist Russia's bullying of its neighbours and help America come to terms with a rising China. If he is wise, he will work harder than before to enlist allies for these aims, even if America must sometimes still act alone. But it will be harder and lonelier without a confident Tony Blair at his side.