Usually a number is mentioned: the 221 British troops who have died in Afghanistan since 2001, the roughly 850 Americans, 131 Canadians, 36 French soldiers, 34 Germans, 21 Dutch, 22 Italians, 26 Spaniards, 15 Poles and others.Yes, the largest number is for US war dead, but the overall number is over 1350 and includes 352 from the British Commonwealth.
The expression "US and NATO forces" bugs me. The US is part of NATO. Remember the three purposes of NATO? Keep the Russians out, the Germans down and the Americans in. No one wanted a repeat of the 1920s and 30s, when the US withdrew back into splendid isolationism. And remember the dust-up about General Stanley A McChrystal talking in London a couple of weeks ago? He had his NATO hat on and was talking in a forum in a NATO nation. He not only has to keep President Obama happy, he has to keep Gordon Brown and Nikolas Sarkosy and Angela Merkel and a host of others happy.
The author of the piece, in The Washington Post, Ms Anne Applebaum, asks important questions. Here is her summation:
There is almost no sense anywhere that the war in Afghanistan is an international operation, or that the stakes and goals are international, or that the soldiers on the ground represent anything other than their own national flags and national armed forces: Most of the war's European critics want to know why their boys are fighting "for the Americans," not for NATO. Most of the American critics dismiss the European contribution as useless or ignore it altogether. As Jackson Diehl pointed out Monday, the central debate about future Afghanistan policy is taking place in Washington without any obvious contributions from anybody else. I'm not going to blame the U.S. administration alone for this: It's not as if Europe has put forward a different plan -- and there was certainly a moment, back at the beginning of this administration, when that would have been very welcome.Frankly, Afghanistan is too important for President Obama to rush to a conclusion about troop strength.
The fact is that the idea of "the West" has been fading for a long time on both sides of the Atlantic, as countless "whither-the-Alliance" seminars have been ritually observing for the past decade. But the consequences are now with us: NATO, though fighting its first war since its foundation, inspires nobody. The members of NATO feel no allegiance to the alliance, or to one another. On its home continent, NATO does precious little military contingency planning, preferring to hold summits. Above all, there is no recognizable alliance leader who is willing or able to engage in the national debates of the various member countries, to argue in favor of the Afghan mission or any other. President Obama could in theory do this, but I'm guessing the idea doesn't fill him with inspiration.
None of this might matter much in Afghanistan, since the outcome of current deliberations may well be some version of the status quo. But the next time NATO is needed, I doubt whether it will be there at all.
One thing I would hate to see is a lot of our service members pour out time, sweat and blood and then have Congress, six or eight years down the road, tell us that this was, in fact, a bad idea, and then have them cut off all the money for Afghanistan, including money to help the central government and the people of Afghanistan. We have done it before. Ask one in five people in Lowell. To paraphrase our (senior) Senator, John Kerry, how do you ask some man or woman to be the last person out for a mistake of many years ago? How do you ask them to be the last person out and then not apologize to them with all the humility possible, from the well of the US Senate, with all the other Senators (and other members of Congress) present? In a very important way this is not about President Obama, this is about Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.
Regards — Cliff