Our American cousins are getting annoying again. With another 17,000 troops en route to Afghanistan they'll soon have nearly a quarter of the force that would have had a chance at securing the countryside back in, say, 2003 when that was still a viable option.
Having utterly screwed up the Afghan war for the past eight years, the reinforced Americans are suddenly full of bright ideas, gratuitous advice and a bucketful of that arrogance that we've all come to know and love. The Washington Post interviewed various American commanders in Afghanistan who were outspoken about Canada and the other NATO forces:
When NATO forces were deployed to the south in 2006, the Canadians were assigned the province of Kandahar, the British got Helmand, and the Dutch were sent to Uruzgan. The three nations developed their own battle plans and agendas for development. They established provincial reconstruction teams that report to their capitals, not the NATO regional command at the Kandahar airport.
People at the regional command now joke that the three provinces should be renamed Canadahar, Helmandshire and Uruzdam.
"It's a totally dysfunctional way of fighting a war," said a U.S. officer in the south. "You've got each of these guys doing their own thing in their provinces with very little coordination."
The fractured approach is a result of demands imposed by NATO members as a condition of sending troops to Afghanistan. Each nation wanted its own chunk of the action so it could show off what it had accomplished. That model has been less problematic in the far north and west, where there has been less violence, and in the east, where the U.S. military has established its own command.
"The big question for NATO now isn't whether members are going to send more troops or what caveats will be placed on those troops, but whether the nations who have decided to stand up and fight will actually fight together," a senior U.S. military official said.
The task of trying to get everyone to collaborate has fallen to Nicholson, who is pushing the British, Canadians and Dutch to embrace a more integrated approach to war-fighting and development. "We need a coherent regional plan for victory," he said, "not a bunch of national plans for victory."
Wait just one minute. There may be real merit in these criticisms but the time for criticism was 2005, four years ago. The Dutch are set to leave next year and we're supposed to be out the year after that. You don't leave it until 2009 to try to reform the mission.
The American commander is right in calling for a "coherent regional plan for victory." That would begin with about 200,000 troops flooding the southern provinces to establish security and America has already given that idea a pass. NATO forces have never been in this war to win but neither has the lead partner, the United States, and, after all, when it comes right down to it, this is America's war.
When America's military gets into wars that go badly, there's a point at which they switch from war-fighting mode to finger-pointing mode as they gear up to dodge responsibility for failure. Anyone who was around to notice in the aftermath of Vietnam will recall how this game is played. The first line is "we never lost a battle." Then you simply pin the loss of the war on any convenient mark. You can blame the feckless politicians or the ungrateful civilians at home.
The parallel between Vietnam and Afghanistan is that the bad guys are fighting a different war than the war we're fighting over there. They're waging a political war, an insurgency. We're fighting a military war. We're bound to win all the battles in our war because we're the only side with artillery, tanks, attack helicopters and strike fighters. But our war doesn't matter except for conjuring up excuses and pointing fingers. It's their war that matters because that's the one that'll remain when our war has run its course and we've pulled up stakes.
So our generals and America's generals will beat their chests and bleat "it's not our fault" which, by definition, means it must be someone else's fault, it must be your fault. But it's America's generals who have the most blame to spread around and they'll smear it wherever it might stick, including their NATO allies.
The tide has changed. Last year the NATO forces were invaluable allies, this year they're hapless Surrender Monkeys. The Pentagon is getting ready to run up the White Flag.