Thursday, July 24, 2008

A short note on Barack Obama's speech in Berlin 

Tom Maguire looks at Barack Obama's speech in Berlin (which I am listening to as I write this), and says that

Obama also wants the Germans to man up in Afghanistan and the world to support the new Iraqi government after he cuts and runs - great, if he can pull it off.

If only. Here is what Obama said about Germany and NATO in Afghanistan:
This is the moment when we must renew our resolve to rout the terrorists who threaten our security in Afghanistan, and the traffickers who sell drugs on your streets. No one welcomes war. I recognize the enormous difficulties in Afghanistan. But my country and yours have a stake in seeing that NATO’s first mission beyond Europe’s borders is a success. For the people of Afghanistan, and for our shared security, the work must be done. America cannot do this alone. The Afghan people need our troops and your troops; our support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, to develop their economy, and to help them rebuild their nation. We have too much at stake to turn back now.

The Germans have provided soldiers to the NATO command in Afghanistan. The problem is that they encumbered them with rules of engagement that prevent them from using lethal force.
Although forces from all 26 Nato member states are deployed in Afghanistan, only Britain, America, Canada, Denmark and Holland have not used caveats to limit the rules of engagement of their troops. While the French, Italians and Spanish have all come in for criticism in the past, particular ire has been directed at the German contingent, whose forces may only be deployed in a non-combat role in the relatively peaceful north.

The United States and the other actually manned up countries have repeatedly asked the Germans to make their soldiers available to, er, fight, but the idea is so unpopular in Germany that even Angela Merkel's relatively serious government cannot make it happen. This would have been the perfect moment for Obama to invest some of his massive popularity to request specifically that Germany revise its rules to allow full participation in the NATO mission. Yes, he would have risked losing Germany's electoral votes, but in return he would have demonstrated that oh so elusive gravitas on an issue that is crucially important to the credibility of the multilateral action that Obama and most other Democrats view as the archtype for American military action. Obama says that Afghanistan is the important war and that we must fight it in partnership with our traditional allies (a label that is applied to Germany with only great effort), but he still cannot bring himself to use his unprecedented popularity to ask the Germans actually to participate in the alliance that protected them for almost 50 years. Obama did not tell Germany to man up at all. In fact, he gave his tacit approval to Germany's abdication of its responsibilities to the alliance if only it will not pull its troops out of Afghanistan all together. That is a missed opportunity to show real leadership and actually advance the interests of the United States. It is also a hot steaming cup of lame.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.


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