by Jerome a Paris
Sun Mar 2nd, 2008 at 09:46:41 AM EST
My worst fears about Obama's foreign policy ideas are confirmed by his recent declarations on Afghanistan:
Obama Calls for Help from NATO Allies in Afghanistan
So far Obama hasn't said much about America's posture toward Europe, but the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination set a new tone on his campaign plane by telling reporters there had to be more give and take between Washington and its NATO allies.
"I've been very clear that we do need more support from them," he said, referring to NATO countries with troops in Afghanistan. "We also may need to lift some of the constraints that they have placed on their forces there."
Sounds like the usual "give and take": Europe gives and the US takes. How about actually thinking about the underlying policies, and put an end to the pointless - and now irredeemably lost - war in Afghanistan?
As a first note, don't take this as a Obama hit piece in the primary wars - Clinton is even worse on that topic, as the article makes clear:
These loud-and-clear statements follow a debate with his rival Hillary Clinton last Tuesday, when Clinton charged him with foot-dragging on Afghanistan as chairman of a Senate subcommittee on Europe. "He's held not one substantive hearing to do oversight, to figure out what we can do to actually have a stronger presence with NATO in Afghanistan," Clinton said at the debate.
Given that she's criticizing him for not being hawkish enough on Afghanistan, and given the current policies of the Bush administration, let it be clear that I am criticizing the most moderate of the candidates on the topic.
That said, and this is a criticism of political discourse in the US in general, the fact that the most dovish candidate still feels the need to brush up his credentials as a tough, military-wielding macho via the usual attacks on wimpy Europe should give you all pause.
So let's say it out loud:
The war in Afghanistan, or, more precisely, the occupation of Afghanistan, is lost.
The War in Afghanistan is lost
And it's the second war/occupation messed up by George W. Bush. The first president to lose two wars.
That should be the core message, and the lesson should be that warmongering, militarism and brute force do not work. Full stop.
The current fighting in Afghanistan (like that in Iraq) has only one purpose right now: push back into the future the moment of acknowledgement that America lost. Europeans are right to try not to participate in that charade, and not to sacrifice people (both theirs and Afghanis) to salvage a president's ego and the USA's belief in its own goodness.
President Bush went into reckless wars, lost them, and now America has to deal with that history (yes, just like the French have to deal with Algeria or collaboration during WWII). The way to deal with them is NOT to pretend that this past can be changed.
Because the result will be obvious: The next Democratic president will be blamed for defeat (when finally imposed by events), rather than Bush.
So the games around Afghanistan and NATO are just a pointless exercise in bullying the wimpy Europeans to delay the inevitable reckoning. And I have no doubt that the bullying will work to some extent, given that our leaders are either actual wimps, or actually desperate to serve as vassals to any US president. Sarkozy will sent more soldiers to Afghanistan this year, and we'll have a new Franco-American honeymoon on shared military tough-guy posturing, but the fact that such periods of officially good relations seem to happen only when France is blindly following the lead from Washington, and not when it criticizes insane policies, is quite noticeable...
Sarkozy can do that because there is no way for voters to stop him, given that he controls a compliant parliament for the next 4 years. The Germans are a different case: the authorisation to have the soldiers in Afghanistan must be renewed every year in parliament, and with elections looming, the deep impopularity of the pointless fighting killing and dying over there must be addressed head on, so the traditionally Atlanticist elites cannot do what they want.
The fact is - it's not just Bush that's impopular across the world (amongst populations - again, elites are a different crowd): it's a country willing to use military force so casually and so frequently all over the globe. A new president will be given the benefit of the doubt, but if s/he continues the same warmongering policies, the same causes will have the same effect, with another president.
And, frankly, I'm not sure even Obama sees that:
Still, Obama couched his challenge to Europe in a promise to do more listening. He addressed a sore point in trans-Atlantic relations by saying that an Obama presidency would pay attention to its European allies.
"It is also important for us to send a signal that we're going to be listening to them when it comes to policies that they find objectionable," he said, "Iraq being at the top of the list."
This shows a deep misunderstanding of what the "list" is. Iraq is not on that list. It was a catastrophic decision, but it's no longer a problem for anyone but America - and Iraqis. The US can remain bogged down over there for years, nobody else is really involved. The damage (to international law, to Western pretensions to talk about democracy and human rights, to Middle Eastern stability) is done and is pretty much irreversible now. We all live with it, whether US soldiers stay there or not.
No, real issues today are climate change, runaway financial capitalism, Kosovo or Afghanistan. I have no idea what will happen on the first two, and am keeping an open mind on that, given that Obama's and Clinton's discourse on these topics have moved in the right direction. But on Afghanistan, Kosovo, and NATO's role therein, we're seeing more of the same: posturing, delusions of finding military solutions to political problems (and by "military", one should sadly understand "excessive bombing and shooting on sight"), and an overwhelming desire to see Europe fall in line behind jingoistic US policies.
Well, it's not going to work better than under Bush. The only difference is that, this time, the Democratic president will be blamed.
Further recent reading on NATO, Afghanistan and Kosovo:
US vs Europe in 2009 by Jerome a Paris
Are Europeans Hiding in the Bush, or is Transatlantic Panacea to Come? by Kyle Atwell
An International Study Group for Afghanistan by Joerg in Berlin
Kosovo Independence and Press Freedom in Russia by Kyle Atwell
Europe's Kosovo mistakes by euamerican
Just another day in Belgrade by Magnifico
Modernising the British Army radically by The3rdColumn
Dr Kissinger Calls by afew
Our enemies have watches, but we have time by Helen
Kosovo declares independence by jandsm
The Afghanistan Problem by afew
Has America Betrayed the NATO Alliance? by Vigilante
In defence of NATO in Afghanistan by The3rdColumn
Afghanistan as Pretext for NATO Change: 2003 and Now by RadiumSoda
Condi Rice and Robert Gates contradict each other on Afghanistan by The3rdColumn
Afghanistan's killing fields by The3rdColumn
(I particularly recommend The Afghanistan Problem as a good summary)