Who’s really losing Afghanistan?

Afghan hand and former NPR correspondent Sarah Chayes has an interesting piece in the New York Times. Her argument in a nutshell is that the Americans, not NATO, should get the blame for the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images She makes some great points. The Bush administration was blockheaded to turn down early ...

By , a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies.
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Afghan hand and former NPR correspondent Sarah Chayes has an interesting piece in the New York Times. Her argument in a nutshell is that the Americans, not NATO, should get the blame for the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

She makes some great points. The Bush administration was blockheaded to turn down early offers of international support. And rapid American troop rotations are debilitating. It often takes commanders months to get a grip on political realities in their area, and they leave almost as soon as they've gotten smart. She's also right that some NATO troops are better at striking the delicate balance between force and diplomacy that counter-insurgency campaigns require. Too often, American troops believe that real soldiering is blowing things up and taking people down.

Afghan hand and former NPR correspondent Sarah Chayes has an interesting piece in the New York Times. Her argument in a nutshell is that the Americans, not NATO, should get the blame for the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

She makes some great points. The Bush administration was blockheaded to turn down early offers of international support. And rapid American troop rotations are debilitating. It often takes commanders months to get a grip on political realities in their area, and they leave almost as soon as they’ve gotten smart. She’s also right that some NATO troops are better at striking the delicate balance between force and diplomacy that counter-insurgency campaigns require. Too often, American troops believe that real soldiering is blowing things up and taking people down.

But Chayes seems unaware of how much the dynamic with NATO has changed in the last several years. The Bush administration is now desperate to get the alliance more involved, but many NATO members are reluctant. Either they won’t send enough troops or they’ll only send them to “safe” areas of the country. German, Italian, and Spanish contingents often do little more than patrol the area immediately around their bases. The Dutch, Canadians and British in southern Afghanistan, let’s not forget, are the exception (and political support for the mission is uncertain in Canada and the Netherlands). The alliance’s spotty performance can’t all be chalked up to America’s early blunders.

In any case, Chayes need not worry. In today’s political climate, President Bush will get the blame if Afghanistan fails. In the meantime, NATO could do a lot more to ensure that it doesn’t.

David Bosco is a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of The Poseidon Project: The Struggle to Govern the World’s Oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist

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