Saturday, April 4, 2009

NATO to Obama on Afghan war: "Go get 'em, yank, we'll hold your coat"

The official NATO emblem or auto hood ornament?

The outcome of President Obama's first NATO meeting was known well in advance, but that doesn't get the European thumb out of our collective eye. The Times (of London) reports:

Barack Obama made an impassioned plea to America’s allies to send more troops to Afghanistan, warning that failure to do so would leave Europe vulnerable to more terrorist atrocities.

But though he continued to dazzle Europeans on his debut international tour, the Continent’s leaders turned their backs on the US President.

Gordon Brown was the only one to offer substantial help. He offered to send several hundred extra British soldiers to provide security during the August election, but even that fell short of the thousands of combat troops that the US was hoping to prise from the Prime Minister.

Just two other allies made firm offers of troops. Belgium offered to send 35 military trainers and Spain offered 12. Mr Obama’s host, Nicolas Sarkozy, refused his request.

Mr Obama – who has pledged 21,000 more troops to combat the growing insurgency and is under pressure from generals to supply up to 10,000 more – used the eve of Nato’s 60th anniversary summit to declare bluntly that it was time for allies to do their share. “Europe should not simply expect the United States to shoulder that burden alone,” he said. “This is a joint problem it requires a joint effort.”

He said that failing to support the US surge would leave Europe open to a fresh terrorist offensive. “It is probably more likely that al-Qaeda would be able to launch a serious terrorist attack on Europe than on the United States because of proximity,” he said.
Of course, the mission in Afghanistan has strong support from a few, dare I say, courageous allies. Britain has contributed the largest force, other than the U.S., with more than 8,000 troops engaged in some of the toughest fighting in southern Afghanistan -- and it has pledged to send as many as another 1,000. Canada is next with about 2,500 troops, also in dangerous combat in the south. Australia and the Dutch are both in the fight, as well, and have punched above their size.

The major NATO nations of the continent, however -- Germany, France, Spain and Italy -- are largely missing in action, contributing small numbers and insisting that those be deployed only in the relatively safe north and west. As if to rub Obama's face in their refusal to fight, the Germans and the French publicly offered to hold his coat:

The summit's co-hosts, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, both were quick to offer support for Obama's new Afghan strategy of sending American reinforcements and bolstering Afghan forces. But they went no further.

"We totally endorse and support America's new strategy in Afghanistan," Sarkozy said a joint news conference with Obama after they met.
That's sooo special, Nick. Obama is raising American troop strength to 60,000 (and has only deferred his decision on another 10,000 requested by commanders), and our glorious "first ally," which has just deigned to "rejoin" NATO's military command, will be cheering us on from the sidelines.

It's nice that Europeans are "dazzled" by Obama (and his impressive wife). But neither Obama nor the rest of us should count on them for much.

What do you think about NATO's cold shoulder? Post a comment.

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