Friday, February 09, 2007

Straight Talk from Berlin

[posted by Callimachus]

Der Spiegel's editorializing often is more reasonable and factual than its reporting. Here for instance.

Claus Christian Malzahn examines Germany's ambivalent attitude toward its involvement in the NATO mission in Afghanistan. It's grimly amusing to compare the European media's coverage of its own military missions with its coverage of America's. You want "good news?" You want painted schools? You can find them aplenty in Europe -- as long as its European soldiers wielding the brushes. But as Malzahn points out, Germany's civilian deployment in Kabul, and its little success stories, "is only possible because Americans and Canadians are preventing the Taliban in the south and in the region bordering Pakistan from marching into Kabul and the north -- and encountering the Bundeswehr in the process."

[H]ere in Germany it is considered acceptable to lay the blame for [Afghanistan's] problems on the actions of the United States government. Many choose to paint Germany's military involvement as a peacekeeping mission while characterizing American activities as hostile warfare. This view of reality in Afghanistan is deceitful and politically schizophrenic.

... Unlike NATO, which, partly as a result of Germany's hesitation, has failed to develop a convincing concept for Afghanistan, the Taliban has a clear objective: It wants to regain power. While the West has imposed a pointless separation between the military mandates of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Operation Enduring Freedom, the Islamist fighters benefit from both a clear military structure and an equally clear mission. Their goal, put simply, is to fight and drive out the Western armies and topple the government in Kabul. The Taliban longs to reestablish a country without girls' schools and music, without individual freedoms and without democratic rights. This helps to explain the clear and interdependent relationship between the "good" ISAF and the "bad" Operation Enduring Freedom. If the Taliban manages to defeat the Americans in the south, the Bundeswehr might as well close up shop at its soup kitchens in Kabul.

It's exhilarating to see writing like this in a German mainstream magazine: "It is a bitter reality that many Germans on the left couldn't care less that innocent people could be hanged in football stadiums in Kabul in the near future, or that a religious party could be measuring the lengths of men's beards and barring women from walking alone on the street."

The Greens, who, as the Social Democrats' coalition partner in the previous administration, were part of the decision to send the Bundeswehr to Afghanistan in 2001, recently voted unanimously against extending the Bundeswehr's Enduring Freedom mandate. One of the party's chief criticisms was of the US military's strategy to fight the Taliban army from the air. This approach does in fact result in recurring civilian casualties.

But the alternative to these airborne campaigns would be to reinforce ground troops. Naturally, this is an option the critics of the administration's decision to send Tornado jets to Afghanistan are unprepared to accept, because ground-based deployment would almost certainly lead to troop casualties. That happens in war. But the powers that be in Berlin simply behave as if one could conduct a war with virtually no losses and with companies of peacekeeping troops. The fact that the Greens, who were in favor of the mission in Afghanistan in the first place, are now denying political responsibility five years down the road -- a responsibility not only to our allies, but also to the Afghan people, especially women and girls -- is especially pitiful.

Emphasis added. Needless to say, it's more than just Berlin that has this problem.

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