Can Obama jumpstart NATO in Afghanistan?

Can Obama jumpstart NATO in Afghanistan?

By Dov Zakheim

I agree with Chris’ analysis of Afghanistan, at least up to a point. We would not be where we are today if the Office of Management and Budget, in its myopia, had not withheld significant funds for aid to Afghanistan in 2001-2003, a time when there were perhaps 30,000 troops — from all nations — in the country, when the drug trade had not yet blossomed, when the Taliban was on the run. A serious infusion of such financial and economic assistance would have given the Afghan central government considerably more credibility, and given Afghan farmers a viable alternative to poppies. And it would have made the Taliban even less attractive to the ordinary Afghan.

Obama is not being unilateral by doubling our troops. We can, and should, demand more economic and financial assistance, as well as materiel support to our forces, from the Europeans, as well as the Asians and the Arabs — as we did in 2002-2004, with some success. (Full disclosure: in my job as civilian DOD coordinator for Afghanistan, I spent a lot of time rattling the tin cup around the world.) Involving these states materially, as well as the EU, multilateralizes the war in Afghanistan in a very real way, creates support in the UN, and helps us to work alongside otherwise skeptical NGOs as well.

As Chris points out, NATO does provide a significant institutional and multilateral degree of support for our military efforts. Moreover, we should not forget that when a NATO solider is killed, his/her family grieves as much as an American one for its loss. Therefore, any provision of forces that contribute to actual combat is to be welcomed, and when those forces come from the smaller NATO states, one should not underestimate the sacrifice involved.

There are NATO allies that have put strict limitations on the employment of their forces, and they should be publicly shamed for doing so in my view. The blood of our young people — and of the Dutch, Canadians, and Brits, among others — is no less red than that of the others.

Afghanistan is still viewed around as the "good war." That fact, and the goodwill that is showering Barack Obama, offer him a major opportunity to turn the tide against the Taliban once and for all. And now the ball is in his court.