On the eve of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit last week, President Bush urged NATO allies to do more to tackle the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, saying member nations "must accept difficult assignments if we expect to be successful." There is no doubt that more needs to be done to secure, stabilize, and rebuild Afghanistan, but Bush’s words really just prove how unstable the situation in the Middle East has become. With Iraq nearing a civil war – many leaders, including Bush’s former Secretary of State Colin Powell, are already calling it one – and Afghanistan the major focus of last week’s NATO Summit, it is time for Bush to make drastic changes in his Middle East policy.
In Afghanistan, where the United States has sent some 11,500 troops to capture Bin Laden, oust the Taliban, and support their burgeoning government, drastic troop and spending increases are needed. Currently 37 countries have some 32,000 troops in Afghanistan being led by NATO – and it’s nowhere near enough. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer have echoed Bush’s call for European nations to step up their commitments and ease the burdens on the US, Canada, Britain, and the Netherlands. Until these countries do so however, President Bush must transfer American troops and US dollars to Afghanistan.
At the NATO Summit last week, leaders of 26 nations agreed to remove some caveats – national restrictions on how, when and where forces can be used – to further strengthen the effectiveness of the NATO-led forces in the country. They also confirmed that, regardless of the remaining caveats, in an emergency situation every ally will come to the aid of the forces that require assistance. A number of countries also pledged additional assets, including fighters, helicopters, infantry companies, and training teams that will mentor the Afghan National Army.
Afghanistan, an Islamic Republic, has made great strides since 2001 when the Taliban was toppled. In just five years they formed a plan for a democratic government, ratified a constitution, elected a president in a nation-wide election, and had legislative elections last year. However, much needs to be done to protect the country from once again becoming a breeding ground for terrorists. As the country continues to rebuild and recover, it is still struggling against poverty, poor infrastructure; large concentrations of land mines and other lost weapons, as well as a huge illegal poppy cultivation and opium trade. Until long-term stability is established, Afghanistan must move up President Bush’s to do list.
In Iraq, where 2,892 US troops have been killed and 20,000 wounded since March 2003, drastic troop reductions need to occur immediately. Currently, there are 141,000 US troops on the ground in Iraq and Bush and Congress need to start bringing them home, transferring them, or altering their duties as the Iraq Study Group was expected to recommend.
The Iraq Study Group, or the Baker-Hamilton Commission, released their final report and findings. The report called for diplomacy with foes Syria and Iran and a possible pullout of most US combat troops by early 2008 to help reverse a “grave and deteriorating” situation. Under the Iraq Study Group's plan, the US troops that remain in Iraq would work as advisors and trainers supporting the Iraqi troops.
“There is no magic formula that will solve the problems of Iraq, “Baker said in presenting the report in Washington. “It is time to find a new way forward, a new approach.”
Although it is still possible to create a liberated and self-governing democracy in Iraq, the United States’ role must change for that to happen. Despite valiant efforts from the brave men and women in our military, the current military strategy in Iraq is not conducive to progress. In fact, it is holding back the development of the Iraqi military and police forces. Until these Iraqi forces are responsible for their country’s security, they will continue to rely on the US to do their dirty work.
The NATO Summit deliberations last week and the Iraq Study Group’s plan will give President Bush an opening to decrease involvement in Iraq and increase operations in Afghanistan as he should have months ago. Sun Tzu, the famed military strategist once said, "Opportunities multiply as they are seized." Only time will tell if President Bush seizes this opportunity.