Turkana at The Left Coaster has a good post today on what has been a problemmatic few days for US relations with NATO allies. It all began when Bob Gates told the LA Times that NATO forces in Afghanistan, where Britain, Canada and the Netherlands have been doing the bulk of the heavy lifting, didn't know "how to do counter-insurgency operations." That led to angry words from NATO members and even NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer diplomatically told reporters that Gates was talking out of his ass.
The British, certainly, would have good cause to be miffed if Gates' criticism was aimed at them. What were the decades-long deployement in Northern Ireland and British operations in Southern Iraq if not extensive real-world counter-insurgency experience? Indeed, the US Surge has more in common with British COIN tactics than it does with the US military's until-then preference for Israeli-style methods.
The Pentagon wasn't quite quick enough to forestall some ill feeling over Gates' words, but is now saying they were taken out of context.
In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said Gates was concerned his remarks were being interpreted as targeting individual countries, stressing that he had said that NATO structures as a whole were not designed to tackle insurgencies.And Gates himself told reporters today:
"The secretary of defense has read the article and is disturbed by what he read," he said. "The totality of the piece leaves the impression that the secretary is disturbed with the performance of individual countries in Afghanistan. He is not."
He said Gates repeated concerns in the January 7 interview over the alliance's capabilities that he had expressed to NATO allies at a meeting in Scotland in December.
This does not reflect reality or, I believe, the views of our governments," Gates said at a Pentagon news briefing.So was it all just a storm in a teacup over words misunderstood? Not exactly. Gates has indeed previously spoken about the need to repurpose NATO away from simply being aimed at preventing a possible Soviet invasion of Western Europe - a threat that no arguably longer exists despite Putin's policies creating a resurgent Russian military - towards a more braod-based organisation capable of fighting the War on (Some) Terror. However, he has also been critical of NATO nations who haven't provided more troops for Afghanistan despite the bulk of America's ground forces being bogged down in Iraq. The most recent example being Tuesday on an NPR radio interview.
"Allied forces from the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia and Denmark and other nations have stepped up to the plate and are paying a significant and powerful role in Afghanistan," he said.
The first is fair enough - NATO needs to be more flexible, more relevant to the needs of all it's members and all future military threats, not just the needs of the US and its current obssession with Islamist terror. But on the second, Gates would do well to remember that, as Turkana writes:
the facts remain: NATO is there because we were attacked, and they are providing troops because ours are off fighting a war that never should have been started. Our allies are too diplomatic to put it in such stark terms. The Bush Administration is not even diplomatic enough to simply thank them for trying to do the job the Bush Administration failed to do.