Fred Kaplan points out that what Robert Gates is asking the Europeans to do in Afghanistan won’t really make a big difference. What’s needed, instead, is something much larger:
What is needed now goes well beyond Germany’s reticence, goes well beyond NATO. What’s needed is a full-blown initiative—military, economic, diplomatic—involving all the nations of the region. It requires imagination, tireless negotiations, heaps of money (in part to pay for other countries’ troops, since we have so few to spare), and some unpleasant deal-making with some otherwise unpleasant nations.
I think this re-enforces what I was saying earlier about Afghanistan. On the one hand, it’s not possible to imagine a global effort of this scale succeeding without stepped-up American involvement. And on the other hand, it’s not possible to imagine Europeans committing in this way to Afghanistan unless the United States is committing itself as well. If we want the Europeans to treat this as a major priority, in other words, we need to act like it’s a major priority rather than as if the idea is for Europe to hold our coat in Central Asia so we can keep throwing more resources into Iraq.
Speaking of which, I recommended Fred Kaplan’s book Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power back when I read it, rather than now when it’s available in stores. Always a mistake. Kaplan is vital reading, as you can perhaps tell from my constant quoting of his Slate columns, and the book is no less vital. At this point, basically everyone can see that the Bush foreign policy has been a disaster. But what’s still not well-understood is why it’s been such a disaster. The book demonstrates that it’s much more than a matter of Bush “blundering” or some such rather — rather, as Kaplan lays out, Bush’s policies have been driven by ideas that seemed right but are, in fact, wrong. Importantly, as Kaplan’s recounting makes clear, the ideas, though wrong, tend to be at least somewhat plausible, raising the danger that the ideas themselves will continue to live in some form beyond Bush’s presidency.