Obama Veep Joe Biden says the situation in Afghanistan threatens the security of every NATO nation. That said, Biden then asked for suggestions from the Alliance nation's 26-ambassadors.
Biden's appearance was notable for the change in approach from the Bush/Cheney era of unilateralism.
A terror attack in Europe would be seen as an attack on the US, he said. "That is not hyperbole ... We view it as a gateway to further attacks on the United States. So please understand that this is not a US-centrist view that only if America is attacked is there a terrorist threat."
The vice president's visit comes less than a week after the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, also met Nato and EU foreign ministers in Brussels to discuss the volatile state, indicating that reaching out to allies to help in Afghanistan is now Washington's priority.
Obama is looking at how Nato's mission in Afghanistan can turn the tide in the volatile south of the country, which has seen a steady rise in fighting and losses. The top US military officer in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, said on Sunday that coalition forces were not winning the war in the south, which remains the centre of the Taliban-led insurgency.
Biden's approach of asking for suggestions doesn't reflect American weakness but rather a confluence of realities.
- This war is getting into its eighth year.
- The enemy, initially in disarray, has regrouped and returned, resurgent. The Taliban and al-Qaeda now threaten both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
- America's military has been worn down on the gristmill of Iraq leaving it unable to flood Afghanistan with the 2-300,000 troops that would be needed to secure that country.
- The Kabul government has degenerated into an ineffectual clubhouse for crooks, thugs and warlords while both corrupt government officials and the insurgency are fueled by the country's narco-economy.
- The insurgency, once the preserve of the Pashtun Taliban, has expanded to become a broadbased uprising embracing a variety of ethnic and nationalist supporters.
- The Islamabad government is also horribly wobbly, under attack by the Islamists while being closely scrutinized by Pakistan's generals. The Islamist influence is spreading through Pakistan's tribal lands.
- And, above all else, there is the Afghan people and the failing campaign for their "hearts and minds." We've pretty much worn out our welcome and support for these wars at home is flagging, the Achilles' Heel of counterinsurgency warfare.
Suggestions? It's going to take a lot more than suggestions to turn around this disaster. Bush not only slashed all four tires, he keyed the paint and poured sugar in the gas tank.
It's 2009 and, no matter what we say, we're on the defensive. Yes, we're staging Vietnam style "search and destroy" missions but they're turning out to be a lot more searching than destroying. Meanwhile the insurgents are consolidating their presence and control of the border regions and are encircling major cities including Kabul and Kandahar.
Perhaps it's not a question of whether our countries are under threat of attack from the Islamists but, instead, whether anything we're capable of doing in Afghanistan can possibly eliminate those threats?
Pakistan and the United States virtually created the mujahadeen. They funded them and armed them well enough for them to be able to drive out the Soviet army and topple the central government. What happened afterward? Did bin Laden's al-Qaeda soldiers carry on their war into the Soviet Union? No, of course not, they had nothing to gain from it. The Islamists did fight in Chechnya but that independence movement wasn't directly tied to Afghanistan.
So, is it safe to assume that leaving Afghanistan, no longer fighting them "over there," will mean we'll have to fight them at home, "over here?" That's been drummed into us for nearly eight years now, often enough that it's pretty widely accepted as gospel.
Osama bin Laden was on the scene 20-years ago when the Soviets pulled out. He didn't rally his forces to attack Moscow, did he? Washington used to argue that America couldn't leave Iraq relying on the "fight them there, not here" argument. It's curious how that mantra fell by the wayside.
With the exception of foreign terrorists drawn to Iraq by the American presence there, the homegrown gaggle of Iraqi insurgents were focused on internal power struggles. They weren't about to attack America because it would serve no purpose.
What if the Taliban did return as a political entity in Afghanistan? How bad would it be? Would Afghanistan return to civil war? Possibly although it can be argued that the insurgency has already morphed into a civil war.
There's really only one way to find out what would happen and that's to leave Afghanistan. If Karzai gets re-elected in August, it's hard to see what would be the point of staying. A legitimate, viable and popular state entity is the cornerstone of everything we could ever hope for in that country. What's the point of building an army if it is to serve an ineffectual and hopelessly corrupt government? Neither would last very long.
Eight years on, we're left with an awful lot of questions and very few answers, most of which are pretty grim. If the reason for NATO remaining in Afghanistan is fear of attack on the member states, somebody better show something that we've done in Afghanistan that's actually deterred such attacks over the past eight years. I've not heard that we've foiled any grand plots against our homelands in Afghanistan, have you?