In the Arena

Latest Column

  • Share
  • Read Later

From my travels. Jet-lag receding, I hope to resume less foggy blogging today…or maybe tomorrow.

Response: Several commenters approve of the criticism leveled by sgwhiteinfla below. Let me respond. The commenter makes two points. He says I’m snarky about Joe Biden because he sometimes says things like, “Vladimir Putin, Lord love ‘im.” Actually, I love that about Biden. It’s eminently human. I also love most of his gaffes–like when he said there was a 30% chance the Obama stimulus plan would fail. Sounds like truth-telling to me. The point of my comment was a) affectionate and b) to reinforce the obvious importance of the speech, which hasn’t received the attention it deserved. But this was a very minor point.

More important, although still peripheral, was sgw‘s dismay with my criticism of the German Defense Minister’s vapid and disingenuous speech, which made no mention at all of the deteriorating situation on the ground, except to echo Karzai’s criticism of the increased civilian casualties (which is what Karzai does instead of cleaning out the corruption in his government). It’s nice that the Germans are adding 2000 more troops–and it’s also nice that Jung held out the German stewardship of its northern areas as a model for the rest of Afghanistan. It is, however, a comparison of lambs and piranhas. The north is essentially peaceful and taliban-free, which is why the Germans chose to station themselves there. They do  sustain casualties, on occasion, but only in defensive, daylight situations. Their troops operate under so many caveats, imposed by their Bundestag, that they are incapable of performing useful military operations, which infuriates those NATO members who are doing the heavy lifting in the active war zones–which was my point: there is a severe breach within NATO, which may cripple the alliance.  Sgtwhiteinfla has nothing to say about this or any other central assertions of the column.

I should add that those allies who are actually fighting–the Brits, Canadians, Dutch, Australians, French, Danes etc.–are doing so in an enlightened manner, using counterinsurgency principles designed to protect local populations, first and foremost. Yes, civilian casualties are rising–because enemy operations are rising and because of the use of aerial bombardment, a consequence of too few troops on the ground. One hopes that aerial problem will be rectified with more troops and better intelligence, both U.S. and Afghan. (The Predator strikes in Pakistan–which are very accurate, by the way–are a separate issue that I intend to discuss in some detail after I do some more reporting.)

In sum, I stand by every word in the column. If it were longer, I would have described the German and British Defense Ministers’ speeches in more detail–as I did in a post here last week–but I have only 800 words in a print column and had a lot of ground to cover this week.