Sunday, August 24, 2008

Which Way Did They Go?

If you never watched westerns back in the day, maybe you don't recognize that line, but it was once traditional when the outlaws went hightailing it, and the posse followed. Presently, it would seem to apply to the 'coalition forces' in the U.S. wars. Alex Thurston wrote a thoughtprovoking post on it, which I am featuring here.

Following closely on the heels of 10 French casualties in Afghanistan and a visit by Sarkozy to Kabul to reaffirm French commitment to the war, we learn via the New York Times that not all French leaders - or Frenchmen - share that sentiment. In late September, the French parliament will debate France’s involvement in Afghanistan and then vote on whether to continue deployment or not.

The vote would take place under new rules requiring parliamentary approval for any deployment overseas that lasts for more than four months; Mr. Fillon will make the Afghan deployment retroactive, even though it began before the constitutional changes.

On Tuesday, the foreign and defense ministers, Bernard Kouchner and Hervé Morin, will testify before a special joint session of the foreign and defense committees of the lower house on France’s Afghanistan policy.

Mr. Sarkozy has strongly defended the need for France to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan alongside its Western allies as part of the fight against terrorism and for the rights of Afghan women. But his promise last April to commit another 700 French troops, bringing the total to nearly 3,000, was not popular.

After the 10 French killed this week, and another 21 wounded – the worst death toll for French forces in an incident since 1983 – French media has lavished attention on Afghanistan, driving Georgia and Russia off the front pages. The dead, wounded and their families have received much coverage, and Mr. Sarkozy presided over an elegant memorial service for the dead on Thursday at the Invalides.

Now I don’t know much about French internal politics, but this move seems to signal an even lower ebb of enthusiasm for the war on the part of our European allies. The Times paints the vote as largely symbolic, saying the legislature will likely approve continued deployment, but American leaders should pay attention to such symbols. Such a public expression of reluctance and doubt about the mission in Afghanistan confirms what I’ve been saying recently - we will not see increased troop commitments from
European countries, and we may even see reductions.

A friend argues that agreements for a timetable in Iraq might even provide political cover for a complete European withdrawal from Afghanistan. He may be right. In any event, the burden remains with us.

The old Cold War bloc is reminding us that swinging wildly doesn't mean getting the other fella to step back. It can throw us into a round that we can't handle, and don't want. There must be some one up there at the occupied White House who can figure this out.

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