Afghanistan appeal may temper European allies’ ardor for obama

That’s the somewhat snarky headline of a Washington Post story on the European response to President Obama’s efforts to obtain assistance for the war in Afghanistan. According to the Post, European leaders “are proving just as reluctant to contribute more soldiers or money to the NATO-led operation as they were during President George W. Bush’s last years in the White House.” (emphasis added) The French Defense Minister has said that his country will not consider sending additional troops. The Dutch Prime Minister has announced that his country will begin drawing down its force. And German officials have ruled out sending any more troops beyond the 4,500 additional ones the government authorized last year. Germany, moreover, does not permit its troops to venture into Southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban happens to be strong.

Some Europeans are worried that Obama might take their rejection of his request for help badly. NATO Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said, “If Europeans expect that the United States will close Guantanamo, sign up to climate change treaties, accept European Union leadership on key issues, but [expect] nothing in return for example in Afghanistan, they should think again.” But this assessment overestimates both Obama’s nationalism and his resolve. It also overlooks the likelihood that Obama agrees with the European agenda, and thus does not need inducements to support it.

Afghanistan provides the definitive refutation to those who argue in favor of multilateralism when it comes to warfare. Because the Afghanistan action is largely non-controversial in Europe, because the U.S. had committed so many troops to Iraq, and perhaps because President Bush wanted to shed his image as a unilateralist, we allowed this to become a NATO-led mission. Yet, for the most part, NATO members refuse to fight. Indeed, our top officials routinely find themselves begging European governments for a few helicopters or tanks, with mixed success.

President Bush used to say that the war in Iraq was being waged by “a coalition of the willing.” What we have In Afghanistan is a coalition of the unwilling. To the extent the U.S. still wants to fight to win, the former model is plainly superior.

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