According to a recent opinion poll by the Financial Times, clear majorities of people in the UK, France, Italy and Germany believe their countries shouldn’t send any more troops to fight in Afghanistan. And the governments, ever mindful of their fickle electorates, agree. “We have made the necessary effort,” French Defence Minister Herve Morin said yesterday. “Considering additional reinforcements is out of the question for now.”
In Finland, Professor Juhani Suomi, one of the most influential historians of his generation, recently ridiculed Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb for basically trying to kiss ass by doubling the Finnish troop strength in Afghanistan — from 100 to 200. Suomi, like many other scholars and politicians in Europe, points out that as the U.S. bolsters its own war effort, Afghanistan will once again become an American fight and will be seen as such by the ever-reluctant ISAF contributors who never wanted to be there in the first place.
This line of reasoning might be politically expedient, but I think it’s fundamentally flawed. To start with, you don’t prosecute a war by listening to your pollsters. I realise I’m starting to sound like George W. Bush, but I believe there are times when you need to send your armies overseas regardless of public opinion. And although stability hardly grows from the barrel of a gun, any lasting solution to the region’s ills will by necessity have a military component. Ironically, Afghanistan is unpopular in Europe exactly because the very governments that now refuse to commit more forces have failed to explain to their voters why the war matters. It shouldn’t be all that hard — just start with the fact that a country’s nuclear arsenal may soon be in the hands of homicidal fanatics, and take it from there.
As for the argument that we should all pull out because it’ll end in tears anyway, let’s for a moment meditate on what will happen if we do:
- The coalition crumbles, leaving the U.S. and Britain to fight alone. Reconstruction grinds to a halt.
- Debilitated by its failure, NATO shrinks to irrelevance. Fireworks in Moscow.
- Faced with a fight to the death, the Kabul government chooses engagement with the Taleban instead.
- The Taleban kills everyone else and seizes power.
- Military coup in Pakistan.
- Al-Qaeda hits Europe and America.
- Supported by an international coalition, the U.S. starts a bombing campaign to topple the Taleban. Osama bin Laden escapes.
[UPDATE: WPR's Judah Grunstein chimes in with a more optimistic take.]