A Practical Coalition for Afghanistan
ISLAM AND THE WEST
By Daniel Brumberg
Our ultimate goal is not to occupy Afghanistan...but rather to provide the Afghan government the capacity to provide for its own security...I believe strongly, and I think that our NATO allies believe strongly, that we cannot allow a territory in which people who would kill our citizens with impunity...to operate. -- President Barack Obama
No one will say this publicly, but...we are all talking about our exit strategy from Afghanistan It may take a couple of years, but we are all looking to getting out. -- Senior European diplomat
You can't blame European leaders for feeling an uncomfortable twinge of déjà-vu. As it turns out, the young American president -- who many Europeans saw as a redeemer of Washington's unilateralist adventures -- came to Berlin, Prague and London with a seemingly contradictory message. Yes, President Obama spoke eloquently of a new era of cooperation and mutual respect between Europe and the US. But he also suggested that come what may, the US fully intends to deprive the Taliban of their capacity to use Afghanistan as a base for "killing our citizens with impunity."
This is a tall order, the dimensions of which extend much further than many Europeans -- and Americans -- might imagine. Even if Obama believes that a "Jeffersonian democracy" is not in Afghanistan's future, he seems to understand that the battle against the Taliban requires a political component. Call it nation building, political reform assistance or advancing governance: to succeed, Washington must help Afghans re-forge their representative institutions. And so it is very likely that the US will be in Afghanistan for the long haul, even as our Europeans friends are "looking to get out."
This might be a recipe for a very short US-European honeymoon. The sooner we confront this unpleasant fact -- instead of whispering it to journalists -- the better.
This won't be easy, particularly given the high hopes that many European leaders have for President Obama. Those expectations have shined most brilliantly in France, the very European state whose leaders (and populace) sharply opposed US intervention in Iraq.
Obama's European trip has coincided with France's re-integration into NATO. Hotly debated, the decision was pushed by President Nicolas Sarkozy. France's "un-de Gaulle," Sarokzy's love affair with the US sits unusually well with many French people, not a few of whom seem more charmed with Obama than with their own mercurial president. As one French writer recently wrote: "The difference between the two is obvious: Barack Obama uses 'we' most often whereas Nicolas Sarkozy says 'me.'"
Such paradoxes won't be enough to overcome French-US differences. The country that gave birth to the term l'intérêt d'État, France has neither the political will, tradition or bureaucratic capacity to support the long-term, multi-dimensional policy required for trying to save Afghanistan from turning into a second Taliban state.
The same cannot be said for Germany, Britain, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands. These countries could assist Washington. For example, they could increase development assistance, push for meaningful political reforms, provide security forces for Afghanistan's upcoming parliamentary elections, or assist in the retraining of a police force widely seen as a predatory menace.
The EU has promised five thousand security forces to assist in the last two of the above endeavors. Still, these decisions might be merely tactical steps designed to mollify Washington. What is urgently needed is a much larger, pragmatic vision: a "Coalition of the Possible" assembled around a politically feasible formula for strategic burden sharing. As Obama put it: "It is important for Europe to understand that...al-Qaeda is still a threat, and that we cannot pretend somehow that because Barack Hussein Obama got elected as president, suddenly everything is going to be OK...This is a joint problem. And it requires a joint effort."
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