So Turkey, our NATO-ally, has suffered only one attack on their forces in Afghanistan in the past four years. This is a little surprising, as violence in Afghanistan is at an all time high for NATO troops, with 400 attacks in the first week of June, compared to 50 attacks in the first week of June 2004. But the 800-man Turkish force, the largest from a Muslim country in ISAF, has barely been scratched. Turkey’s foreign minister claims that it’s because the Turks have a great relationship with the Afghans, their fellow Muslims, and are doing a bunch of non-military missions that the Taliban don’t have a problem with. The Turkish foreign minister advises the rest of NATO(read Americans) to do the same: “We see nonmilitary measures as important, even more important than the military and security issues,” he told the AP.*
Good for Turkey for not getting their soldiers killed, but then they’re not the only ally in Afghanistan who has avoided fighting. The majority of the 42 countries in ISAF aren’t really mixing it up(which led ousted Gen. David McKiernan to remark last year that some thought they were there for “summer camp.”) It’s much easier to list the countries that are getting bloodied: U.S., Canada, and the Brits (with the Aussies, the Poles, and the French, sometimes.)
This is not to make a cowardly European argument–it’s probably best that the Germans stick to building roads, as they’ve made such progress taming their more ferocious instincts over the past 60 years. It’s to ask the question: what’s the point of a NATO alliance that is supposed to give us “international” political cover, if it’s pretty clear that the cover is a joke? (A camoflauged fig leave over the groin of Uncle Sam, if you will.) Does anyone really think of Afghanistan as a NATO war? Does NATO think of Afghanistan as NATO’s war?
My sense is “no.” Most (in the world? in Kabul? In Brussels? in DC? ) view Afghanistan as America’s war. As David Kilcullen remarked to me a few months back, Europeans view their commitment to Afghanistan as an alliance thing, not a real threat to national secuirty. The recent firing of McKiernan with very little consultation with our NATO allies is another example. I was told that our NATO friends in ISAF didn’t even really care that they weren’t consulted. Which seems to suggest they don’t feel like they have too much at stake over there. And, it suggests, that Gen. Petraeus and Gen. McChrystal, despite the lip service to our allies, view Afghanistan primarily as America’s war. (On the ground level, too, a photographer friend who’d been hanging out with Brits and Canadians said that all the Afghans he spoke to called every Westerner an American, despite the little flags they had on their uniform.)
So if our NATO alliance isn’t really giving us much political cover, what’s the point? And if it is giving us cover, cover against what exactly? (It’s not like it helped Obama get anyone else on board to send more troops, save the U.K., and they would have come no matter what.) What benefits does it give us? Why bother with the hindrances and bureaucracies and compromises under a set up like ISAF? Who are we trying to convince that Afghanistan is really a NATO war and not an American War? Is anyone actually convinced of this?I’m curious–perhaps there’s a good argument to be made that I’m missing.
(*Regarding the Turkish foreign minister’s comments. It is interesting that Turkish soldiers haven’t been whacked. Is it because they aren’t really doing that much, and aren’t assuming very much risk? Perhaps, and at ISAF Headquarters in Kabul, one of the architectural highlights is the finely wooden “guard tower” over looking the beer garden that I was told was a result of Turkish handiwork and care. But does having some kind of cultural bond/darker skin make the nation-building duties somewhat easier? Sure. Lastly, does it have anything to do with the Taliban/insurgent/criminals not wanting to alienate the Muslim world by attacking Turkey? Unlikely, I think, but who knows. Josh Kucera, your insight on Turkey and NATO, please!)