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"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)

Terrorism: Should Europe and the US Go to Red Alert?

Counterterrorism officials in France, Germany, Britain, and the United States have given warnings this week about the rising threat of attacks by Al Qaeda and its affiliates, especially in Europe. Are our politicians listening? Are you concerned?

"Al Qaeda and its allies are taking aim at Europe, according to US and Western intelligence officials, who say there are indications a terrorist plot is in the offing" writes the Washington Times. (HT: ACUS)

While FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III told a Senate hearing on Wednesday that Al Qaeda continues to be "committed to high-profile attacks directed at the West," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stressed the increasing threat of smaller-scale attacks, which require less planning and fewer pre-operational steps and therefore are more difficult to detect before they occur.

Continue reading "Terrorism: Should Europe and the US Go to Red Alert?"

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)

2010 is Deadliest Year for Coalition Forces in Afghanistan

2010 is the deadliest year for NATO forces in Afghanistan, reports the NYT.
Violence is 69 percent higher for the three months ending Sept. 14 than it was for the same period last year, according to the United Nations special representative’s quarterly report to the Security Council, which was released Tuesday.

The deterioration of security was most evident in the increase in roadside bomb explosions, which rose 82 percent over the same period in 2009.
A graph documenting the steady annual rise of coalition deaths from 2001 to today can be found at US forces have suffered 1301 deaths out of the total 2098 among coalition forces since the war began in 2001.

This record in casualties follows another landmark event in Afghanistan last week, nation-wide provincial elections.  Here are some (grim) stats on the election outcome provided by AFP:

* more than 2,500 candidates stood for 249 seats
* over 3,000 official complaints about voting irregularities
* more than 1,000 polling centers were unable to open because security could not be guaranteed
* 22 people were killed by polling day violence, and 294 insurgent attacks occurred
* final results are due October 31st, though may be delayed for months

While these numbers may be discouraging, Tony Karon writes in Time that the elections actually have only a marginal impact on Afghanistan's future:
Most of the region's main players, including President Karzai himself, are operating on the assumption that the only plausible endgame for the war in Afghanistan is some form of political settlement with the Taliban — and reports from the region suggest that the pursuit of such a settlement, with Pakistan acting as broker, has already begun via discreet talks. The bottom line in such a settlement would be for the Taliban to agree to prevent territory under its control from being used to export terrorism, and to accept that it will not be able to restore its theocratic rule over the whole country — some form of power sharing would be inevitable, with the Taliban likely to end up as the dominant political authority in the Pashtun south and east. But despite reports that Taliban leaders are open to a different approach to wielding power and hosting al-Qaeda, achieving a deal would be far from easy. The Taliban's military momentum diminishes its incentive to compromise, and the leaders of the Northern Alliance that fought the Taliban for years and brought President Karzai to power are fiercely opposed to the restoration of the movement to any position of power. Still, the distribution of power in Afghanistan is clearly going to be determined by the outcome of efforts to broker a political solution among those who wield military force on the ground. And in that respect, Saturday's vote was, unfortunately, a sideshow.

Bullshit on Europe?

Dan Drezner divides Secretary Clinton's major foreign policy speech into "the good, the bad, and the BS portions." (I am wondering if he follows Harry Frankfurt's definition of bullshit) And Clinton's statements on Europe fall into the BS portion:

The whole section on strengthening bilateral and multilateral ties to Europe almost caused me to lose my cornflakes.  I mean, c'mon.  Is forcing the Europeans to cut down their number of seats in the IMF an example of strengthening alliances?  I see the intrinsic merit in occasionally dissing the Europeans, but don't tell me that anything transatlantic has been "strengthened" over the past 18 months.

Good question! What has been strengthened in transatlantic affairs over the last 18 months?

The German Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Trends 2010 survey just made the - cough -- totally surprising - cough -- discovery that Obama's popularity has not lead to converging opinions about how to address several global challenges. Apparently, it takes more than presidential popularity to make the European kids follow the lead of the US godfather? Wow, so perhaps George W. Bush's personality was not the main reason why Europeans opposed the Iraq war. Do you think that maybe - just maybe - Europeans have different national interests and preferences. And the world affairs is not a popularity contest? Oh, I am going on a limp here.

Europeans are full of bullshit as well: According to the same survey 62% of EU respondents ("large majorities") said that "NATO should be prepared to act outside of Europe to defend members from threats to their security," while at the same time 64% of those respondents "thought that their country should either reduce or withdraw troops" from Afghanistan.

I think Europeans (everyone?) expresses more support if a request or question is phrased in broad and very abstract terms and concerns the future (NATO out of area), but when you get more specific and concrete and refer to the presence (Afghanistan), then people withdraw their support. I guess, this holds true to both big politics and personal relations...

U.S. Generals Indicate No Quick Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Recent statements from top U.S. generals are dashing hopes in the US and among European Allies that the war in Afghanistan will wind down in the next year, despite President Obama's stated intentions to begin troop reductions in July 2011.

Consider comments from the top U.S. Marine in Afghanistan, General James Conway, reported by Daily Times:
In recent months, US officials have played down expectations of any large withdrawal of troops in July 2011. Conway echoed those sentiments, saying he believed Marines would remain in the south for years. He said that Afghan forces would not be ready to take over security from US troops in key southern provinces for at least a few years.

“I honestly think it will be a few years before conditions on the ground are such that turnover will be possible for us,” he said, referring to Marines deployed in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Conway said some Afghan units somewhere might be able to assume the lead for security in 2011 but not in the south.
Further statements by General David Petraeus regarding the Afghanistan drawdown make it clear that the July 2011 date does not signal a hard end of the war, writes
Petraeus also repeated his view that the drawdown in U.S. and NATO forces, scheduled to begin in July 2011, will not result in a swift withdrawal.

"July the date when a process begins. It is not the date when the U.S. forces begin an exodus and look for the exit and a light to turn out," Petraeus said.
General Petraeus discusses the July 2011 drawdown in a video interview with the BBC, found here.

In the article "Why Europe Fears
Petraeus's Urge to Surge", Financial Times argues that European leaders not only desire a more expedient withdrawal from Afghanistan, but also want to pursue a different strategy for ending the conflict based on negotiations with the Taliban:
In discussions with European generals, diplomats and officials – each involved in their government’s Afghan policy – a common fear emerges. That US president Barack Obama will not be able to refuse demands from Gen Petraeus to extend the surge well beyond July 2011; that the general will continue to push for a continuation of military strategy; and that he will decline any suggestion of opening negotiations with the Taliban – something that many Europeans are very keen on.
European officials are coming to the consensus that they would like the Nato summit and Mr Obama’s Afghan policy review – both at the end of the year – to reach a position where negotiating with the Taliban is the political strategy around which military strategy is determined.

Troop withdrawals, which Mr Obama says will start next July, would then take place according to the pace of talks between the US, the Taliban and the Afghan government; not on the basis of hard-to-gauge battlefield success. Europe also wants the US to press Afghanistan’s neighbours not to interfere in its affairs.

Gen Petraeus wants to convince Washington, Nato and Europe to do just the opposite, determining withdrawals on the basis of the military, not the political, situation.

Preventing History from Repeating Itself

Spiegel International:

German police on Monday closed a mosque that had been a meeting place for the 9/11 terror cell. They believe the mosque continued to promote jihad and may have been a staging site for Islamist extremists living in Germany who have traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan to participate in militant camps.

Thousands of Classified Reports on the Afghanistan War Leaked

An extensive series of previously classified reports on the Afghanistan war effort titled the Afghan War Diary (AWD) has been made public by the website WikiLeaks. 

The NYT, Guardian and Der Spiegel were leaked the reports several weeks ago.  Each has spent the past month analyzing the reports and writing articles with their key deductions.  According to the New York Times editors' note:
The articles published today are based on thousands of United States military incident and intelligence reports — records of engagements, mishaps, intelligence on enemy activity and other events from the war in Afghanistan — that were made public on Sunday on the Internet. The New York Times, The Guardian newspaper in London, and the German magazine Der Spiegel were given access to the material several weeks ago. These reports are used by desk officers in the Pentagon and troops in the field when they make operational plans and prepare briefings on the situation in the war zone. Most of the reports are routine, even mundane, but many add insights, texture and context to a war that has been waged for nearly nine years.
The NYT, Guardian and Der Spiegel have all vetted the reports and come to the conclusion that the material is authentic. 

You can download the full set of reports from the WikiLeaks website, here.

New York Times coverage is found here.
Guardian coverage here.
Der Spiegel coverage here.