PEJ News - C. L. Cook - While his boss pleads a Mea Culpa (sort of) for his administration's abrogation before, during, and after hurricane Katrina, Donald Rumsfeld fumes indignant that NATO is reluctant to take over responsibility for another Bush disaster.
"Will No-One Clean Up My Mess?"
C. L. Cook
September 13, 2005
In Europe for meetings of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), U.S. Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld expressed frustration at the inability of the 17 nation alliance to operate "effectively" to address a variety of military challenges. The problem according to the secretary is one of national sovereignty, especially when it comes to things like invading foreign countries. Says Rumsfeld: "Different restrictions on national forces makes it enormously difficult for [NATO] commanders to have the flexibility to function."
What Mr. Rumsfeld is saying here is, as long as member nations of the alliance, designed to thwart the threat of Soviet attack following the Second World War, cling to domestic law and bow to political pressure at home, American military "flexibility" will be hampered.
As first among equals in NATO, the U.S. has had a lot of success utilizing the mutli-nation force to achieve American interests; the Balkan campaign being the prime example. But there has been some bitterness on the part of that coalition of the willing. Following the fall of Belgrade and the consequent divvying up of the spoils, the Europeans felt short-changed.
The French, Italians, and to a lesser degree, Germans believed, because the Former Republic of Yugoslavia was in their backyard, and because they faced much greater political fallout from the 78 day NATO bombing campaign that eventually ousted Slobodan Milosevic from power, the choice privatization and reconstruction contracts would go first to European business. But, that didn't happen.
Now, with the U.S. intractably mired in Iraq, and Afghanistan growing more restive as the national election there approaches, "Old Europe" is playing coy with the prospect of further involvement; perhaps hoping to wring out richer "co-operation" deals, but also with an eye to the jaundiced public perception of the Bush administration and its recent history.
For German politicos facing an election of their own at week's end, supporting what's widely seen in Europe as American Imperial ambition, or even appearing to support U.S. foreign policy and its universally reviled president George W. Bush, would be disastrous at the polls.
It's all enough to have Donald Rumsfeld fretting to the press, longing for the "New Europe" that dissipated so quickly. Sounding unlike the cocksure hawk of old, Rumsfeld opined: "Over time it would be nice if NATO would develop counter-terrorist capabilities which don't exist at the current time."
"over time it would be nice...?"
Of course, what the Defense Secretary wants is more European boots on the ground, and more money in the kitty. But, Rumsfeld's got a problem: He's playing a losing hand and everyone knows it. What Americans don't quite get at home, here in Europe is clear to the most obtuse observers: America is in deep doo-doo.
The Europeans see the U.S. army over-stretched and over-stressed; the domestic economy in ruins; the political mood turning against the administration; and now, the disastrous Katrina. How much time Rumsfeld can afford is the stake at this NATO table.
Tomorrow, the ministers will meet. Rumsfeld will push for European relief for the roughly 20,000 U.S. military tied up in Afghanistan. For their part, the Europeans, and lesser Canada, will let the secretary twist a bit before committing more than the current 11,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan.
This weekend's scheduled election in Afghanistan could prove the crucible test for both America's resolve in the region, and the future course of trans-Atlantic relations for at least what remains of the Bush presidency.
Chris Cook hosts Gorilla Radio, broad/webcast from the University of Victoria, Canada. He also serves as a contributing editor to PEJ News. You can check out the GR Blog here.