Thursday, January 17, 2008

Gates gaffe galvanizes the allies, but again distances them from America

A few days of damage control haven’t particularly helped his reputation, but American Secretary of defence Robert Gates may finally be able to pop his head out of the foxhole. But the better strategy may be to keep holding to a low profile and maybe even take a vow of silence.

Gates was quoted extensively in the Los Angeles Times as questioning the ability of the NATO forces to adequately prosecute an insurgency situation in the southern portion of Afghanistan.

The fall out from his mis-timed, mis-informed and in his opinion mis-quoted remarks has been fast, furious and far reaching. He may wish to suggest that his comments were taken out of context ( a position that the LA Times begs to differ with), but you can’t help but wonder if he even takes the time to think about his words before he begins throwing them around.

While he named no names as they say, the area of concern that he was talking about is also the area where the bulk of the heavy lifting has gone to Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and Holland.

Four countries which seem to be doing the majority of the actual fighting in Afghanistan, while the rest of the NATO social club have their croissants and beer in a tent somewhere to the North and far away from the dangerous areas.

In fact, by sheer location of task, Canada has suffered a greater burden by capita than most other Nations in the country including the USA. Our contribution to that troubled part of the world has been a gut wrenching experience for most Canadians, though many probably have no idea as to the dangers that we have sent our sons and daughters off to.

For those that are looking to better understand the sense of mission and dangers that come with it, picking up a copy of Christie Blatchford’s book, Fifteen Days is a must. It would be an eye opener for Canadians who perhaps haven’t quite grasped the new world in which the Canadian Army now exists in.

It provides a telling reminder that with the little successes that we may have accomplished in those dusty fields and towns, there comes a terrible price when a return flight brings back another soldier killed, another son or daughter that won’t be coming through a front room door ever again.

It would be a particularly helpful bit of literature for Secretary Gates, as it might provide him with a bit of snap shot that those other nations are fully involved and suffering losses just as valid as his own nation is.

The last couple of days have been dominated by spin measures by the Americans, who surely must realize that by criticizing the only countries that actually have bothered to step up and take on the dangerous work, they risk provoking an end to the only semblance of a coalition that they have left in the world.

The Afghanistan war is a controversial topic in all four of the countries currently under the American Secretary’s withering glare, it probably wouldn’t take much for respective governments to decide that they had more than served their time and perhaps some of the less inclined NATO countries might wish to share some of the burden.

With the answer to that request most likely a wall of silence, the Americans would very quickly find themselves shoring up a situation that would surely be much worse were it not for the sacrifices of those nations that have taken on the battles on the outskirts of Kandahar and beyond.

What must be particularly galling to the troops that have seen their friends killed and the families that have learned that their loved ones won’t be coming home, is the sense that even after such sacrifices, they receive criticism from a supposed partner in the fight for Afghanistan.

What Mr. Gates seems to forget, or conveniently ignores is that a good portion of the problems in Afghanistan were caused when the Americans for all intents and purposes abandoned the task of chasing down the Taliban, in favour of the invasion of Iraq.
Had they perhaps completed that mission as defined after 9-11, then all the talk of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and even perhaps a growing Pakistani uncertainty would have been rendered moot.

Instead, they changed their focus in the region, in effect putting the situation in Afghanistan on a back burner while they launched an all out offensive against Saddam Hussein, a futile search for weapons of mass destruction and whatever else they could think of at the time. The net result of their efforts being that they provided a lightning rod for insurgents to gather around from across the Middle East, making life for Iraqis a daily struggle for survival.

As history has recorded over the last few years, the chase of the insurgency in Iraq hasn’t been an unqualified success, despite the rhetoric that Gates seems to seriously believe in himself. The echo of the Bush administration that all is well and progressing well

The original reason for going to Afghanistan was to take out Al Qaeda, return Afghanistan to the long suffering people and perhaps even bring Osama bin Ladin to justice. Of those three thoughts, so far only returning Afghanistan to its people seems to have at least found a measure of success, mostly through the efforts of those nations that Gates seemed to belittle two days ago.

There very well may be mistakes in the way that the current situation in Afghanistan is being handled, it’s a constantly fluid situation that requires snap decisions in trying times. Gates’ long distance view of the problems from the safety of his fortified (and rarefied) office in Washington probably isn’t the best way of looking into it.

At the moment, the sad joke that NATO has become is held together by the very countries that Gates appears to have taken to task (and one of them, Australia isn’t even a member in the alliance).

Canada and the other nations that have been fighting in southern Afghanistan don’t need lectures from Gaffy Gates, who by most accounts has never actually fought a battle in combat in his life (or any potential lectures from their fellow NATO brethren for that matter). Rather than being a pompous blowhard, perhaps he could offer some tangible help and a bit of arm twisting on the recalcitrant members of his alliance. That may be a better use of his verbiage and self appointed position as all knowing manager of Afghan affairs.

America frequently seems to want to go its own way in the world, consultation with other nations never has been a strong suit of theirs. Never shy about stepping in and in fact over stepping their boundaries at times, they often prove to be their own worst enemies when it comes to coalition building

If isolationism is really the goal of the US, a few more timely comments from their Secretary of Defence very well may go a good way to achieving the standing alone policy in good stead.

Sydney Morning Herald--NATO up in arms over Gates attack

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