Saturday, January 19, 2008

Defense Secretary Robert Gates Takes a Canadian Shot Across his Bow

It will resonate around the world.

All Defense Secretary Robert Gates did was to complain that the contribution our NATO allies were making in our anti-Taliban campaign was not amounting to heavy lifting.In an interview, all Gates said was,
I'm worried we're deploying NATO advisors that are not properly trained and I'm worried we have some military forces that don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations. . . Most of the European forces, NATO forces, are not trained in counterinsurgency; they were trained for the Fulda Gap.
I wonder how many of my fellow Americans have ever heard of the Fulda Gap? I certainly haven't. But Gates may have a point. Since the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union unraveled, the Fulda Gap probably shouldn't have remained the central objective in the NATO training mission. Not until you remember that George Bush has done his level best to restart the Cold War, anyways.

But be that as it may, go figure Gates' surprise at the reaction to his 'observations'. The Dutch Defense Ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador for an explanation. In Britain, Conservative lawmaker and former British infantry officer, Patrick Mercer told The Associated Press that Gates' reported comments were,
. . . bloody outrageous. I would beg the Americans to understand that we are their closest allies, and our men are bleeding and dying in large numbers. . . These sorts of things are just not helpful among allied nations.
Col. Nico Geerts, the Dutch commander in Uruzgan, responded,
Our troops, men and women, are well-prepared for the mission. Everyone in the south, the British, the Canadians, the Romanians and our other allies, are working hard here. ... I wouldn't know what the secretary of defense of America is basing this on.
I could go on, if I had the patience and time to do additional Googling this morning. But what really got my attention, right off the bat, was the Canadian reaction in the form of a lead editorial from the Toronto Star:
American Defence Secretary Robert Gates may well be right when he says that Canadian and European troops in Afghanistan are not well equipped to fight a counter-insurgency campaign. But what has been lost in the controversy over his impolitic remarks is that we did not sign on to fight insurgents – there or anywhere else.

The International Stabilization and Assistance Force, which NATO now commands and which includes some 2,500 Canadian soldiers, was set up in late 2001 by the United Nations to do just what its name suggests – stabilize a country emerging from years of civil war and assist the fledgling Kabul government in its redevelopment efforts.

Fighting the Taliban (or, as they were called then, the Taliban "remnants") was a job that Washington insisted on reserving to itself through what it called Operation Enduring Freedom.

Canada helped out in that one too, sending troops to serve under U.S. command in 2002. But in those days, America wanted to keep its sometimes squeamish allies well away from a dark war that was aimed primarily at capturing terror suspects and transferring them to interrogators at Guantanamo Bay.

It was only after 2003, when the U.S. found itself troop-short and bogged down in Iraq, that Washington changed the rules of engagement for its allies. Gradually, Afghanistan became NATO's war. Washington's plan then was to gradually reduce its 20,000 troop commitment to Afghanistan and switch them over to Iraq.

Which is why, since 2006, Canadian troops have found themselves under fire in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

It's worth remembering that we keep sending soldiers to Afghanistan not because Canada has been attacked by the Taliban, but because our friends, the Americans, feel they are at war with them.

The Dutch are in southern Afghanistan for the same reason. So are the British – who have paid a severe price at home for their decision to support Washington's various anti-Islamist wars.

That's why Gates' comments rub so raw in this and other NATO countries. Since 2001, one Canadian diplomat and 77 soldiers have died in Afghanistan. More than 250 more have been wounded in action. Yet this was never our war. It was always America's.

The U.S. chose to declare Afghanistan the enemy after the terrorist attacks of September 2001. Had Washington elected to avenge 9/11 by invading the country from which most of those terrorists came, Canadian troops would now be fighting in Saudi Arabia.

Their call, their war, their show.
Which lays it all out.

Frankly, I wonder what took so long for this thinly veiled allied grievance to rear its ugly head and bite our American
Pentagon asses on their butts. The central organizing tenant of NATO is that an attack on one will be treated as an attack upon all. 9-11-01 was certainly an un-provoked attack on the USA, I would argue. So our very good allies sprang into line against al Qaeda, only to be rebuffed initially, because Bush wanted to go it alone in Afghanistan.

Imagine the growing concern of our trusting allies, however, as they watched Busheney pour the vast preponderance of our military and economic assets into an unprovoked invasion and endless occupation of Iraq? Certainly, NATO's covenant did not envision an attacked member, supported by every one else, would dare to go off on another tangent altogether? While they're working to pull our chestnuts out of the fire in Afghanistan, we go off and start an even bigger and more expensive and expansive fire in Iraquagmire?

You really have to wonder at Gates' naiveté, not to have anticipated sparking this righteous anger and rage. The Pentagon is as much in a bubble as is their outpost in the Green Zone.

The Bradley Effect

The text for this rant is the Kelly Tilghman - Dave Seanor (Golfweek) affair. Thanks to readers Boris and Get-a-Life for broaching the (Tom) Bradley Effect, even if obliquely. And thanks to Bill Dwyre who has a has a piece in the L.A. Times which provokes me to make a few points.

Racist comments and jokes, however inadvertent, constitute intermittent clues that we have not yet crossed over into the Promised Land envisioned by Martin Luther King in 1968.

  • These inconvenient reminders cannot be excused away. A defense of Kelly Tilghman or Don Imus might be:
    Well, they're always talking, 24-7! Some things, during some understandable lapses, are bound to slip out.
    The solution is to spend less time in front of the open mic and more time in front of an open book. Try reviewing American history, for example. Checkout the American holocaust about which you're apparently in denial.

  • Print journalists are in jeapardy if they try to be as colorful as bloggers. In the blogosphere, we constantly review, revise, and ultimately delete if we recognize our clay feet in our mouths. But it's hard to recall the cover of a national magazine.

  • Additionally, Politicians on the primary campaign trail, 24-7. You boys and girls are in a very risky situation, what with all of the minicams out there recording any unguarded moment. This came to me watching a close-up of JRE in a recent debate. Edwards looked like he had gravel in his stomach, gravel in his mouth, and gravel in his ears. His whole exhausted countenence indicated that he was thinking, "How much more of this unadulterated bull shit can I take." The fatigue has got be a 100 times more for the candidates than for the rest of us. I totally excuse their guarded, carefully worded responses to specific questions. But they too, like talk journalists, need to take some down time and read a little, reflect and re-charge.

  • Finally, as Dwyre writes,
    Racism needs to be reported. Blatant, inadvertent, miscalculated, all kinds.
    We can't afford to lose all persepective, but it has to be recognized for what it is and talked about. And a Tilghman or Imus might have to take a time out before we can move on. But this stuff has to be aired out in the sun.
Only in this way can we put to rest the Tom Bradley Effect. Eventually.