Thursday, December 4, 2008

Obama and Europe

Alex Massie and Dan Drezner have been debating the question of whether tensions will rise between the US and Europe over Afghanistan after Obama takes over. Alex stresses the widespread popular sentiment in Europe that there is no military solution in Afghanistan. Dan counters that European policy elites are more receptive to the notion that a reinvigorated multilateral push in Afghanistan can halt the slide and possibly turn things around--provided that things in Iraq remain stable.

Of course the real joker in this deck is Pakistan. The Mumbai attacks underscore the volatility of the situation in Pakistan, and as US and European attention shifts from Iraq to Afghanistan, radical Pakistani groups are likely to seize the opportunity. Afghanistan will look more like pre-surge Iraq, and no "Sunni Awakening" pacification strategy presents itself, particularly if the Pakistani ISI is involved in the unrest and serving its own domestic political ends.

Will European public opinion remain negative if the Afghan theater heats up? Will this continue to be seen as a US operation, an extension of the Bush doctrine? A lot depends on Obama, but a lot depends as well on European leadership. For Sarkozy, I think the best strategy would be to refocus debate. Instead of viewing Afghanistan as the first stop in the "war on terror," a hopelessly discredited concept in the eyes of European publics, he could present it as an area of contention in a wider regional conflict involving two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan. It would be healthy if Obama took a similar tack. After all, the problem with radical Islam stems not from the existence of terrorist training camps in ungoverned wasteleands but from the spread of terrorist ideology, which is no doubt more rapid and effective in dense urban neighborhoods. The drive to control territory in Afghanistan is probably futile and certainly wasteful. Europeans, who know something about urban Islamic radicalism, might want to press that point with their new American counterparts. If that were done, European public opinion might not remain as static as Alex fears.

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