Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein


MARCH 2007

Afghanistan has emerged to challenge Iraq as the major focus of George Bush's war on terrorism. But congressional critics prefer to fight the president on his decision to send more troops in Iraq instead of his less publicized plan to bolster U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Those who oppose the "surge" of U.S. troops in Iraq argue that Americans should not fight in its brutal civil war. Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on "Meet the Press" February 25: "The key issue is: Do we want American troops in the middle of a civil war?"

It's a valid criticism of administration strategy on Iraq. But critics have not said Americans should also avoid fighting the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan's civil war.

One reason for the divergence in these cases is the high U.S. casualties sustained in Iraq, and the media's daily focus on them. Another reason is that European troops are serving under a NATO command in Afghanistan. In Iraq, NATO decided not to be involved.

Americans show frustration that the Pentagon's strategy has failed after four years to bring peace and stability to Iraq. Afghanistan is viewed differently because TV networks have given its civil war far less attention. And unlike in Iraq, Afghanistan's government is generally accepted by the Afghan people. Te Maliki cabinet in Baghdad is seen by Sunnis as the tool of a Shiite majority that denies them equal treatment.

How long will critics of Bush's Iraq policy remain quiescent on Afghanistan when casualties mount during the Taliban's coming spring offensive? Taliban insurgents, with Al Qaeda's support, intend to inflict major casualties on U.S., British, and Canadian troops in the south and add to the clamor in Washington, London, and Ottawa to pull the troops out of harm's way.

A wide disparity in NATO troop commitments to Afghanistan's civil war is a major concern in the White House and Congress.

At present the United States has 27,000 troops in the country, most of them in the southern and eastern provinces where fighting is fiercest. This number will grow in coming months. Britain deployed 6,000 combat troops and Prime Minister Blair recently announced that they will increase to 7700. Canada maintains 2,500 troops in the vital Kandahar area. The Netherlands has another 1500, followed by Poland with 1,000. Australia, a non-NATO country, has 1000 combat troops and will soon increase the total.

Neighboring Pakistan recently moved into the forefront of the allies' drive to stop the insurgents' spring offensive. This is because Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters maintain safe havens n Pakistan's mountainous region on the Afghan border, a source of tension between Pakistani's President Musharraf and the Afghan and American governments. Musharraf seems unable, or unwilling, to use force to eliminate these Taliban bases, and some argue that U.S. bombers should destroy them if Musharraf does not.

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are urging the French, German, Spanish, and Italian governments not to restrict their forces to peace-keeping in northern Afghanistan, where the insurgency is minimal, and instead deploy them to the south where other NATO forces are fighting the Taliban's growing insurgency.

The problem is that their governments fear their citizens will not accept troop casualties in Afghanistan. The split in NATO that started in 2003 over George Bush's decision to invade Iraq seems also to persist in Afghanistan.

Americans have reason to ask this question: Why are core countries in Western Europe--France, Germany, Spain, and Italy--not willing to join NATO's anti-insurgency fight in Afghanistan, while they permit other NATO countries to bear the burden there? If this divergence in views about NATO's role in fighting Al Qaeda insurgencies persists, the alliance that won the Cold War may no longer be relevant.

File last modified on Monday, 12-MAR-2007 03:25 AM EST

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