Don’t tell me your problems

secdef_gates

US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates spent some time in Singapore, pleading with Asian allies to contribute to the fight in Afghanistan.

“I know some in Asia have concluded that Afghanistan does not represent a strategic threat to their countries, owing in part to Afghanistan’s geographic location,” he said. “But the threat from failed or failing states is international in scope, whether in the security, economic or ideological realm.

“The secretary cited examples of terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia, and said some are inspired and supported by terrorist groups operating along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

“Failure in a place like Afghanistan would have international reverberations, and, undoubtedly, many of them would be felt in this part of the world,” Secretary Gates said.

— Fred W. Baker III.  “Secretary Gates calls on Asian partners for help in Afghanistan“, American Forces Press Service, June 1st, 2009.

The first thing this tells us is that the SecDef does not know how to tailor his presentation to a particular audience.  I am reasonably certain that if you polled the nations within PACOM‘s area of responsibility and asked them what the three biggest security challenges of the region are, their list would look something like this:

1. China
2. North Korea
3. China and North Korea
… And maybe
4. Pirates in the Strait of Malacca

Afghanistan and Pakistan register only on the radar of Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, all of whom have forces committed to ISAF.  India and China would likewise be concerned about Pakistan’s outcome because of shared borders.  Everyone else is, no doubt, a lot less interested in what is troubling America, and a lot more interested in how America can keep a lid on the local crazies in AsiaPac.  Unfortunately, America’s looking for handouts.

“The challenge in Afghanistan is so complex, and so untraditional, that it can only be met by all of us working in concert,” Secretary Gates said. “All must contribute what they can to a cause that demands the full attention of the international community.”

I don’t know, I don’t think Afghanistan is so complex that it couldn’t survive without Singapore’s twenty guys.  Which is not to belittle their contribution, but let’s operate in the realm of reality.  It’s not the presence of extra-regional allies which will make the difference, it is the quality and quantity of effort exerted—whether done by Americans, Singaporeans or Turks.

I am sure that the military, diplomatic and civil resources of the United States and several key NATO allies could resurrect Afghanistan as a functioning state, much as they did with Germany after the Second World War.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the United States is also busy spending many dollars and men defending other places.  Like Europe.  And Asia.  Asking Asians to flood money and resources into Afghanistan seems counter-intuitive.  Wouldn’t it be simpler and easier to ask them to defend themselves?  Why shouldn’t Europeans defend Europe, and Asians defend Asia?  Thereby freeing up Americans to do what they want in Afghanistan.

Hell, Japan and Australia have seen the writing on the wall, and are looking to be a little more independent in the security department.

It’s not rocket science.

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