NATO Defense Ministers and UN Official Back McChrystal Before Obama
3:10 PM, Oct 25, 2009 • By JAMIE FLY
During a trip to Germany and the Czech Republic earlier this month, I was surprised to find that many of the Europeans I spoke to seemed more cognizant than the Obama administration of how important it was to commit the resources necessary to win in Afghanistan.
This has not always been the case. The Bush administration tried repeatedly to obtain increased troop commitments from NATO allies and was often rebuffed. The soldiers that were sent were often of limited utility because of political restrictions placed on the areas they would deploy to as well as their rules of engagement.
In its nine months in office, the Obama administration has been unable to turn the president's vaunted popularity in much of the world into major new international commitments of troops. Now, just as the president is publicly agonizing over what the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan should be, some European leaders seem willing to consider making increased commitments to Afghanistan. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is considering increasing the size of the German contingent in the country when the deployment's mandate is renewed later this year, something that is nothing short of amazing given how publicly unpopular the German presence in Afghanistan is. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced last week that he was sending an additional 500 troops to the country.
These increased commitments appear to be based on a recognition that a properly resourced counterinsurgency effort is the only way to achieve success in Afghanistan. The New York Times reported yesterday that "NATO defense ministers gave their broad endorsement Friday to the counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan laid out by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal." Kai Eide, the UN special representative for Afghanistan attended the meeting and said "additional troops are required," also telling the defense ministers that "this cannot be a U.S.-only enterprise."
Eide is correct that we should be encouraging additional international commitments in Afghanistan. NATO has staked its credibility on the mission in Afghanistan. However, success or failure will in the end come down to the level of U.S. commitment -- and that will depend upon President Obama's willingness to lead.
The problem is that the more President Obama equivocates about Afghanistan, the less likely these allies will be to send additional forces. German officials I spoke to in Berlin made clear that they would not be able to push for an increased troop presence if the United States was seen as stepping back from Afghanistan. Vice President Biden, on a trip through Central Europe, told reporters Friday that concerned allies asked him "Are you leaving?" and were satisfied when he told them the U.S. was not. But our allies will rightly judge a failure to implement McChrystal's strategy as a sign of decreased U.S. commitment to Afghanistan.
The White House took offense at Vice President Cheney's statement this week that the president was "dithering" on Afghanistan. Friday's NATO defense ministerial should put this issue to rest -- even the Europeans have acted with more fortitude than our president.