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.