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Fighting two wars

In Afghanistan, Environment, European Union, The United States on September 22, 2009 at 9:33 am

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Hong Kong (no it’s not Starbucks) and reading the September 22, 2009 edition of the International Herald Tribune. Two articles caught my interest: The first, titled E.U. is increasingly skeptical of U.S. on climate and the second, titled Commander seeks more troops for Afghanistan, are both linked. How is that you may ask? Well allow me to illustrate.

The climate article depicts E.U. frustrations that the United States will not be able to deliver on climate change proposals that will be promised at the upcoming conference in Copenhagen. They fear that it will end up being another Kyoto, and though the Obama administration may sign a comprehensive agreement it will fail in the Senate. The main issue is tying the U.S. to any international regulatory bodies that will monitor and enforce any commitments the U.S. will make.

And they are right. The U.S. will never, at least in the near future, commit to anything that may directly affect American business practices within its borders, unless it’s a local policeman. Nor should it.

Regarding the second article, General Stanley A. McChrystal’s report of the military situation in Afghanistan has been the news of the week. And it’s only Tuesday. Simply put, he’s calling for more troops to be sent, or else the U.S. mission there will fail. Notice the lack of could or might, but will. It’s a jolt to the Obama administration as Obama has been dancing around the topic and openly displaying his hesitancy in sending any fresh troops, unless the situation, to paraphrase from an interview during this past Sunday’s Meet the Press, will directly and without a doubt threaten U.S. national security.

Oh how having a war and a conference on climate change have found themselves to be occurring during one of the worst possible times.

And this is how these two issues are linked. Both articles illustrate the position Obama is in right now. Sandwiched between two parties on two different issues, the Democrats want to push their version of Health Care reform through in direct opposition to the Republicans, while the GOP wants a bigger U.S. commitment for the war, and the Democrats are becoming very much opposed, as U.S. casualties are rising and the cost of the war is increasing. Obama has to work with each issue while appeasing one party and excluding the other. If you think you saw some interesting debates on Health Care reform, wait till Obama promises, if he does just that, something substantial regarding a U.S. commitment on climate change.

He will not get both, and it’s at the cost of finally insuring more than 94% of Americans.

And this is the pickle. Afghanistan is a problem that is here and now and will affect the U.S. more in a negative way and not to mention quicker. To be sure, we finally accepted that the Earth heating up will have devastating consequences, it’s nevertheless a long-run-issue and merely got in the way of one of the biggest domestic changes the U.S. is experiencing right now.

To be sure, if we want to win in Afghanistan we will need to send more money and troops. Fighting an insurgency has a high capital and human cost. Just look at Thomas Rick’s highly influential book, Fiasco, which outlined these observations and identified why the U.S. failed in Vietnam and was struggling and losing in Iraq shortly after the invasion. To win hearts and minds you need boots on the ground to do it.

But the E.U. criticism of the U.S. does have its advantages. If you want a larger U.S. commitment in fighting climate change, then the U.S. needs a larger commitment by its European friends in Afghanistan, mainly from Germany, Italy, and France. Unfortunately this won’t be the concession but will probably be the same one the Senate demanded with Kyoto, and that’s also a commitment in cutting carbon admissions by the rising economies of India and China. To be frank, the Europeans want a larger promise from the U.S. than what the U.S. is willing to give. The irony is that it will probably be very unlikely that the E.U. will even make its target, and let’s not forget that it didn’t even do what it said it would at Kyoto, it was far short of its stated goal.

But nevertheless, these two issues are very serious and require an international, if not a regional effort for Afghanistan. If the U.S. can link these two issues, conceding on one forum while pressing the Europeans to be more engaged in Afghanistan, then acceptable efforts will be put forth in tackling these issues. Unfortunately, domestic pressures in the U.S. will make this propsect very unlikely.