Expect to see a whole vanguard of stories about Barack Obama’s charm offensive in the G-20 summit and how he rescued American standing in Europe. The media will need to focus on that, because Obama’s Grand Tour resulted in no improvement from his NATO partners on its most critical mission. Despite the grins and the thumbs-up poses, Europe will not contribute anything more to the war in Afghanistan:
But behind the display of revived transatlantic friendship, European leaders have proved reluctant to follow Obama in his first major foreign policy initiative, which in effect seeks to make Afghanistan NATO’s main mission of the moment. With a few exceptions, European analysts said, the leaders are ready to heed the U.S. call for more military help in Afghanistan only to the extent necessary to stay friendly with the new administration.
“The Europeans want to come back from the summit and say, ‘Look, we’re still tight with the Americans,’ ” said Daniel Korski, an Afghanistan specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “The Americans want to come back from the summit and say, ‘Look, the Europeans are going to help with the new strategy in Afghanistan.’ ”
European officials said Obama is likely to come away from the summit Saturday with a broad endorsement of his idea that stabilizing Afghanistan is a strategic goal for NATO and support for his decision to devote more civilian as well as military resources to eliminating al-Qaeda havens there and in Pakistan. But they also said that summit pleasantries are unlikely to mask Europe’s refusal to commit to major new troop deployments.
Europe’s main new contribution for now, French officials said, will be a 300-member corps of paramilitary gendarmes to mentor Afghan policemen in the provinces. France, Italy, Spain and Portugal have expressed interest in participating, the officials said, but the project is still under discussion and, in any case, the force would be deployed only in areas considered pacified enough for NATO soldiers to turn the area over to Afghan authorities.
We’re sending 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. The combined forces of Europe are sending … 300. Of course, the Spartans held off the Persians at Thermopylae with King Leonidas and his 300 men, but Leonidas didn’t insist on deploying only to a position where he wouldn’t have to see a single Persian, either. And those 300 come only from France, a remarkable gesture, and one that clearly shows the uselessness of the rest of the alliance on this issue.
Remember when Obama insisted that the problem of European detachment originated with George Bush? Well, Bush is gone, and our NATO allies are mostly no-shows on the front lines. Other than Canada, the UK, Australia, the Dutch, and Poland, we’re mostly getting REMFs (look it up) when we get anything at all.
Jake Tapper is covering Obama’s trip in Europe and reports that NATO may be a fading concept:
But in reality, how much have NATO member states been willing to contribute troops to the military mission in Afghanistan, as if they have all been attacked?
Not much, NATO critics say.
Other than the U.S., Great Britain, France, Canada, Albania, and the Netherlands, most NATO countries have been reluctant to send troops into the country that has felled so many empires before. President Bush pleaded with NATO allies to send troops, to little avail.
Thus, though President Obama comes to the NATO summit today with plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan that he will describe to leaders of the now-28 member states, beyond the push for help in what the Obama administration is calling a “civilian surge” in Afghanistan – aides to help with reconstruction, training Afghan police, and combating corruption and drug trafficking – an existential question lurks beneath the surface of this summit: why does NATO exist?
Why does NATO exist? It exists to provide security for European nations that won’t commit the necessary funds to defend themselves, thanks to the Americans they love to deride. It exists to pull us into European squabbles such as the civil war in what was Yugoslavia, but not to supporting American security issues like the fight against al-Qaeda. We’re Europe’s bouncer, only we pay Europe for the privilege. And Obama might eventually realize that, even though most of us figured it out years ago, when most of Europe refused to fight on the front lines in Afghanistan.
Note: If someone sends me a clever photoshop or video satire of 300 along these lines, I’d gladly post it in an update, with appropriate linkage.