November 28, 2009

A New World

Cooperation can turn the weak into the strong, even make the impossible possible. Conversely, a superior force without synergy can be defeated, or unnecessarily impaired, by a weaker force. Hopefully the White House’s marathon deliberation will put decision-makers on the same page in Afghanistan, from President Obama to General McChrystal to Congress.

But with Obama reportedly locked into his decision and a media hurricane about to crash upon Washington, European drift is flying dangerously below the radar. Leaks are always good for an awakening.

When Sir John Chilcot convenes Britain’s Iraq War investigation, private hearings expected to last for months will produce a stockpile of what-if’s. Why wait though? Copies of the Iraq War files were leaked to the Daily Telegraph two days before Chilcot’s Inquiry began, and damning testimony zeroes in on America’s philosophy of waging war.

“The whole system was appalling,” claimed Colonel J.K. Tanner in 2004. “We experienced real difficulty in dealing with American military and civilian organizations who, partly through arrogance and partly through bureaucracy, dictate that there is only one way: the American way.”

Britain’s chief of staff in Iraq lobbed flak at all fronts. US and UK soldiers and officers had little or no knowledge of nation-building when they first arrived. US corporate favoritism hindered reconstruction, while elitism and bureaucracy impeded the command structure in the field. The “special relationship” couldn’t overcome basic differences.

Major General Andrew Stewart, Britain’s top commander in Iraq at the time, described American commanders as “war-war” and their British counterparts as “jaw-jaw.” He jabbed, “As the world’s only superpower, they [the US] will not allow their position to be challenged. Negotiation is often a dirty word.”

"Europeans chat to each other, whereas dialogue is alien to the US military,” Tanner added. “Dealing with them corporately is akin to dealing with a group of Martians.”

Granted these breakdowns occurred in 2003 and 2004, under a vastly different administration, and Iraq yielded a trove of counterinsurgency lessons that should theoretically ease the pain in Afghanistan. But
yesterday’s fallout is perfectly applicable today, according to the report’s three conclusions.

The second reads: “Exclusion of UK personnel from information and decision-making for reasons of US ‘NOFORN’ rules militated against successful working, and needed some robust interventions on occasion. While this may be a factor on future missions, it is an issue that needs to be raised at the outset when national contributions are offered.”

With NATO contributions worth more than their weight in gold, America cannot afford to speak martian in Afghanistan.

President Obama is expected to unveil his revamped strategy after Thanksgiving break and the American people must expect more troops - up to 40,000. Political pressure allowed him no more room for delay, but a round of NATO meetings in the first week of December provided equal incentive to finish his strategy.

Unfortunately,
just like Bush and Blair’s public friendship concealed a hidden disconnection, fundamental disagreements may lie beneath Obama and Europe’s glow.

For instance, Obama spent three months evading General McChrystal’s total counterinsurgency while NATO adopted a unanimous resolution supporting his plan. Secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a NATO meeting last week, “I'm confident it will be a counterinsurgency approach, with substantially more forces.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as part of the White House’s plan to narrow its goal, recently “assured” the American people that building a modern democracy is off the table.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called for an international summit to set a time frame for withdrawal. Not wanting to stay a day longer than, Brown expressed hope that coalition forces can begin transferring parts of Afghanistan over to the Afghan National Army in 2010. Both notions were quickly squashed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

It’s not as though America and Britain, or the entire ISAF coalition for that matter, aren’t coordinated. Of course they are. Every NATO army is exceeding professional despite the occasional field mistake caused by miscommunication. But the key is maximizing potential and transcending the sum of individual parts, not settling for a patchwork.

As America shifts to another world, the disadvantages in Iraq can be converted into advantages if a new world is created.

In this new world President Obama cuts America’s allies an equal share, meaning he must make Afghanistan about more than America.
Obama doesn’t technically need 5,000 to 7,000 NATO troops on the battlefield, he needs them for perception. The perception that Afghanistan isn’t just “America’s war," so that the Taliban cannot exploit the occupation any further.

So that he’s not going in alone and won’t take all the blame.

After cautioning that the world’s security and freedom is at stake, Obama has gradually retreated into self interest. Afghanistan has degenerated into a US national security issue, but “America’s way” chances disaster. NATO members will deploy troops willingly only if Obama turns Afghanistan into a global issue again.

And doing so would necessitate him bringing NATO into the real decision-making process. So far European states have been given a nominal say, informed more than inquired of, awaiting the White House’s decision like everyone else. Those worried about the fraying alliance must realize an obvious truth - America and NATO need deeper integration at the strategic and tactical level.

If NATO is a necessary component in Afghanistan and a true global force in future wars, America must leave its old world habits in Iraq.

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