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December 01, 2009

A Reaction from Europe
Posted by The Editors

This post is by Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Brian Katulis

A Reaction from Europe:
Europe Watches as America Shoulders a Heavier Burden in Afghanistan

Rome is about the halfway point between Washington DC and Kabul, but it might as well be on another planet when it comes to Afghanistan.

I just watched the speech in the middle of the night here in Italy, where I was speaking on a panel with the European Union’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ambassador Ettore Sequi, among others.

Seeing the day-long media frenzy in America via almost breathless blog posts and Tweets about White House pre-briefs and CNN’s John King running his finger across his magic maps, I was struck by how much more distant Afghanistan feels from Europe than when I’m back in the United States.

Bemused indifference is what the mood feels like in the cafes and wine bars out on the streets here when it comes to Afghanistan.  The war there is not the Iraq war, and no one’s about to rush out in protest against more troops to Afghanistan, particularly if they are mostly US troops.  It’s not considered an illegitimate war, and I think many would like to see it all come to an end.  But because there haven’t been huge costs in terms of lives and money, the impact is not felt as strongly here in Europe.  Don’t get me wrong - America’s key allies have troops and diplomats risking their lives in Afghanistan.  Some European families have paid the ultimate price in losing family members to the conflict.   But the burden doesn’t feel as heavy over here as it does in America, and the debate on Afghanistan, when it occurs, seems much more distant than it does in the U.S.

Inside the policy conference hall, it was a different story.  The Middle East peace panel probably attracted the most attention and passion, but the Afghanistan/Pakistan panel I was on was well attended too.  The EU equivalent of Richard Holbrooke, more or less, Ambassador Sequi was very impressive - he knows Afghanistan well, and had served as Italy’s ambassador in Kabul from 2004 to 2008.  Sequi makes a very strong case for the important component President Obama talked about in his speech - the “civilian surge,” that I wrote about here.

The Council of the European Union earlier this fall issued this statement on “Strengthening EU action in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” which is chock full of ideas on strengthening governance, rule of law, and the economy.  Not surprising - Europe is, after all, the land of “soft power.” And all of this is quite possibly very helpful - these efforts are core to the mission, as General Stanley McChrystal’s assessment highlighted earlier this year: 

“ISAF cannot succeed without a corresponding cadre of civilian experts to support the change in strategy and capitalize on the expansion and acceleration of counterinsurgency efforts.  Effective civilian capabilities and resources mechanisms are critical to achieving demonstrable progress.”

Some European governments seem prepared to help on certain fronts like the civilian surge, but we’ll have to wait for a conference in London next month to see if substantially more resources will come from Europe.  Let’s not hold our breath.


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I would say now, if we can just convince America and our leaders of what Europe already knows ... BEFORE it gets as bad as Europe HERE....

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