Clearly, This Approach Worked for Rumsfeld

by Joshua Foust on 3/11/2011 · 13 comments

BRUSSELS — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates sharply rebuked the United States’ allies on Friday for preparing to effectively abandon Afghanistan, threatening what he described as tenuous progress in the nearly decade-old war.

In a deliberately undiplomatic speech to NATO defense ministers, Mr. Gates called on European allies to put aside their domestic politics and work with the United States to secure the “semblance of normalcy” that he said was emerging in some parts of Afghanistan.

“Frankly, there is too much talk about leaving and not enough talk about getting the job done right,” Mr. Gates said. “Too much discussion of exit and not enough discussion about continuing the fight. Too much concern about when and how many troops might redeploy and not enough about what needs to be done before they leave.”

I’m not really sure what Gates is expecting to accomplish here. The last ten years have been punctuated with the U.S. berating European leaders into ignoring their own constituents for the sake of some grander defense of western civilization—rhetoric that got old very quickly under his predecessor Don Rumsfeld and surely has even less sway now.

The challenge facing Europe is, no one there really thinks the war in Afghanistan serves their interests. Sure, they find an interest in keeping Afghanistan stable, and in preventing its use as a launchpad for terrorism—just about everyone does. But they were not attacked on September 11, 2001, and appeals to that attack carry none of the emotional sledgehammer effects invoking it here does. So that leaves either a vague interest in managing global terrorism, along with a sense of obligation to NATO, as the only reasons to commit troops there. And there’s only so long those governments can get away with it before they need to worry about either domestic issues (like the financial crisis) or they just run out of patience in a war that seems to go nowhere despite whatever tactical advances the U.S. manages to achieve at any given time.

And a “semblance of normalcy?” Where’s that? Certainly nowhere the Surge hit. Gates should have handled this better.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Burk March 11, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I think everyone’s interest (Europe, China, Pakistan, Russia, and the corrupt Afghans) is to let the US drain itself propping up the Afghan mess, bring it to a so-so conclusion, and be a diminished power in the aftermath. I think Gates was just calling a spade a spade. Europe is affected just as much by the tentacles of Al Qaeda and Taliban jihad, but wants a free ride, diplomatically, economically, and militarily.

anan March 12, 2011 at 12:17 am

Don Anderson, when you lower the emotional tempo your comments aren’t half bad.

Burk, I don’t think any of the countries you mentioned other than Pakistan [and some of the extremists in the Gulf although you didn’t mention them] really want a weaker America. All of them want rapid US economic growth because this benefits them. They also want to keep free riding America’s blood and treasure as long as they can. They all want to fight the Taliban and AQ to the end . . . that is to the last Marine.

Arguably AQ/Taliban linked networks threaten Iran, Russia, India, China, Turkey, Europe, Australia, Indonesia more than they threaten America . . . protected as America is by America’s muslim American community and extensive homeland defense.

Don Anderson March 11, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I think this needs to be pieced together a bit. Gates has been making some interesting predeparture commentary recently. Almost as if, now that he is leaving, he can actually say what he thinks after all those years of climbing in the Security System. Unlike some of the other players, Gates does have a method to his madness.

This European Final Statements is interesting and has a few basic angles to explore.

A. The fact is, whether it seems like it or not, this has been a NATO mission for quite a while. The US may be the Senior player in the NATO mission but is not the only responsible party-whether it seems like it or not.—whether it seems like or not-whether it seems like it or not…keep saying that it might seem more true.

B. Since about 2008, there has been a standing list of requirements to be filled by NATO countries for staffing of training, development of training schools, combat etc. These pledges were accepted, stamped and promised.

C. It is true the mission has been seriously compromised by internal European politics most notably the Dutch participation. But once again each of the nations has notably and repeatedly pledged to NATO a certain level of support and follow through.

D. Gates was obviously a bit jet lagged.

E. His point is valid. He is simply calling on the fellow NATO members to follow through on the NATO plan for the next several years. He is beseeching the NATO members not to simply be throwing in the towels as the 2014 date arrives. Neither good nor bad, but the kind of thing one can safely say as he will not need to face any of them again as SecDEF in the near future.

F. Gates knows the real state of our finances and basically via deduction can see that the current level of support from the US is nearly not sustainable for a long time. This is irregardless of the political get out and claim victory mode of the Obama regulars.
“We got you all into this mess, and you need to go down with us now” is the philosophy that the Europeans are resisting.
“Don’t give up this very very fragile ship” is what Gates is preaching.

All of this is missing the fact that Europe is in slow and steady default mode and Mongolia is the key participant defending Camp Eggers.

G. The speech is one of those good footnoters for future books. Gates will be noted as protesting to the Europeans in 2011 that fellow NATO members were not pulling their weight or keep their promises as the NATO campaign went into the final stretch. Gates is CYAing in a very intelligent way. He is out the door soon.

H. Finally from the comments we get a real sampling of the internal divisions which are dragging the whole effort down and weakening joint resolve as we head to a very doubtful future. The huge quantity of missing trainers not getting deployed to the Training Centers is just a small additional indicator of the problems increasing down the road.

J. For Petraeus, Gates, CNAS, Clinton, Eikenberry, Caldwell etc posturing is so important now. Everyone realizes the final production will be frayed on the edges if not downright incomplete. Thus everyone wants to leave his/her/their reputations hopefully intact for the future obituary of the whole Afghan Nation Building Experience.

“Who lost Afghanistan?” is the foremost thought on each and every one of these of these authors of the last decade of war and no one wants to lose out.

Give Gates credit for knowing how to play his cards. I hope his golf swing is as good as his political acumen. If so he could aspire to be a kind of new type Tiger Woods-if he is not already. Let’s hope so, rise is just not interesting without the fall.

anan March 12, 2011 at 12:21 am

Whatever else you think about them Don, Petraeus, Gates, Caldwell genuinely think ISAF/ANSF are winning against the Taliban. Their largest concern is likely the long term steady state cost of operating the ANSF.

But hear is the thing. Several commanders of the ANSF also think they are slowly winning in much of the country. Part of this might stem from the poor record most Taliban have in platoon on platoon engagements with the ANA.

anan March 12, 2011 at 12:30 am

“But HERE is the thing”

There is rising alarm within MoI, MoD and ISAF about the slow fall of Kunar and Nuristan . . . and the setbacks in Nangarhar. Noticed how 203 has drawn down in Paktya and Khost and taken over Logar . . . the 201 ANA they replaced were deeply problematic.

Meanwhile 201 ANA [4 brigades] is focusing on Kunar and Nangarhar. [excluding the green french mentored 3-201 I believe.]

How ISAF and 2-201 messed up so badly in Kunar is stunning. ISAF has only surged substantial forces into three provinces . . . Kunar, Helmand and Kandahar.

The danger is Kayani decides to risk throwing his lot with the North Eastern Afghanistan Taliban . . . because of their victory in Kunar and Nuristan.

Shah Mojadedi March 12, 2011 at 4:46 am

Anan- same message, same lack of knowledge. You do not make any sense, and know very very little about Afghanistan.

Please relax, read a book and slow down-quit saying the same things over and over, and over. It is b o r i n g,

Let us Afghans decide our future by ourselves. No one needs third or fifth hand bad information from a guy sitting in the States using this war as his blogging hobby. You have never been to any of the places you talk about.


And you never make any sense, try to comprehend information and analyze it, just not repeat like a parrot all that you hear.

RainBuffalo March 11, 2011 at 5:46 pm

George Bush, Dick Cheney, and the Joint Chiefs lost the battle in AfPak. All else will be spin and CYA as you say. (Oops, did I forget the US Mainstream Media machine for providing cover with a disinformation scheme).
What ever happened to the day when CEOs could accomplish anything?These guys werent true WallStreetCEO types! Wall Street needs their Nixonian “plausible deniability”, also.
My head is spinning with all the permutations here. I am starting to stab myself for causing these military failures. Dirty little organic farmer, I am. I guess that is why we call it a clusterf*#K or groupthink.
I do fault Gates the least of all these MOTUs.

Don Bacon March 12, 2011 at 12:44 am

Gates called on European allies to put aside their domestic politics

We’ve heard this before. “Why listen to your citizens, I don’t ” Gates is saying.

Steve C March 12, 2011 at 12:38 pm

I’ve noticed a marked tendency among American officials; that they like to deal with their authoritarian partners as if they were democrats and with their democratic allies as if they were dictatorships.

I doubt this kind of arrogance goes unnoticed by the electorates of Europe

marc March 12, 2011 at 11:51 am

For the Europeans it has never really been about Afghanistan but about NATO. When the U.S. went bat shit insane after 911 our allies followed us with sighs and eyes rolling into a quagmire because they deemed it in their interest to preserve the massive defense subsidy the U.S. taxpayers have been supplying Europe for generations. The British had the added incentive of wishing to still seem relevant on the world stage which is why they have degenerated into such a U.S. toady. The cost of the arrangement for the Europeans may finally be yielding too few advantages.

aron March 14, 2011 at 2:57 pm

marc: I think that’s absolutely correct, except that it’s not the advantages that have diminished (Russia is still there), it’s the political cost of participation that has increased — mostly due to the Afghanistan mission, but also Iraq and much else.

For many European voters, the Afghanistan war is akin to the US involvement in Somalia in the early 90s, as seen then by Americans. It’s a distant conflict that keeps producing body bags, but remains mostly incomprehensible, controversial at the polls, draws the ire of Islamists everywhere, and, for most countries, it serves no identifiable national interest except appeasing the USA.

The US pulled out of Somalia under similar conditions. If most of Europe hasn’t, yet, it’s only because unlike the US, they have to take into consideration that Big Daddy in Washington would be so very very angry with them…

CE March 12, 2011 at 2:49 pm

European NATO members have a right to be pissed off at current US military foreign policy, and Bob Gates is grossly misrepresenting and mischaracterizing the alliance’s mandate with his recent comments and this whole ‘War on Terror’ silliness.

NATO was formed with the express purpose of countering existential military threats on the old continent; it was never meant to to go around invading and occupying every piddly, third-world conflict zone that managed to flare up.

The Europeans conjured up NATO to get the US to help out against the real scary, worthy adversaries of the twentieth century, like the Wermacht or Red Army. The US, in turn, has been using NATO to force the Europeans into ponying up troops and hardware for what—to go after a rag-tag, motley assortment of sandal-wearing, cave-dwelling pipsqueaks in the hinterlands of civilization?

If Gates really wants to shame the Europeans, he should just be honest and tell them the truth: “Look; we secure your energy supply; we secure your shipping lanes; we secure all of your biggest trading partners—you know, the ones who buy all of the wine and cheese that you sell; in other words, we keep the wheels of commerce humming for you, Jacques; if all that isn’t worthy of a military indulgence, here and there, for Uncle Sam—then I guess we’ll just have to exact our pound of flesh some other way, now won’t we?”


Jacques March 14, 2011 at 8:50 pm

and the French secure your chocolate supply. African news gets zero airtime in the US of course.

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