Thursday, September 3, 2009

German support for Afghan fight

John Rosenthal provides a needed correction here to a New York Times article stating that the German Free Democratic Party (FDP) has called for a withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan. The question is of importance, as the FDP is a potential coalition partner for Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, or CDU, which at the moment is the expected winner in Germany's upcoming elections.

In fact, late last month FDP party chair Guido Westerwelle strongly defended the German presence in the country: "Nobody likes to send soldiers on foreign deployments. … So every reasonable politician wants to end foreign Bundeswehr missions as soon as possible. But Afghanistan cannot be permitted to become a base for terrorists again. [Our presence] in Afghanistan is, above all, about defending our security here in Germany. … It would be wrong to withdraw now, since tomorrow Kabul would then be the capital of world terrorism yet again."

That is also Angela Merkel's position, as stated in a newspaper interview August 21. It turns out that the German politician calling for a pullout is Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the head of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which is currently trailing in the polls. By coincidence, the New York Times wrongly reported Steinmeier as supporting the Afghan mission.

Why does this matter? Well, the mission in Afghanistan is a NATO one, and decisions must be made jointly. The United States spent years trying to persuade NATO allies to step up their involvement in Afghanistan. If President Obama now starts to waffle, it will really churn up the waters at NATO - in addition to any impact on Afghanistan, the Taliban or Al Qaeda.

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