NEW YORK -- The Obama administration was so concerned in 2009 and early 2010 that the Netherlands would pull its troops from Afghanistan -- potentially causing a chain reaction and leading other allies to jump ship -- that it pulled out all the stops. Efforts included using Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to apply pressure, dangling an invitation to the G-20 conference and hinting at a promise to buy jet engines made by a Dutch company, according to diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks.
In the end, the massive effort didn't work -- the Dutch pulled their troops last August. And internal debate in the Netherlands over the country's role in Afghanistan led to the collapse of that country's government in February 2010.
The administration's obsession with keeping the Dutch in Afghanistan is reflected in US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder's comment that "if the Netherlands pulls out, we will not be able to convince Canada to reverse its withdrawal decision, and we could then lose the UK in a domino effect." (In that same July 6, 2009 cable, Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen privately told the US ambassador that the Netherlands will reconsider its refusal to take Guantanamo detainees "if that's what it takes to close Guantanamo.")
After a meeting with President Obama on July 14, cables state that then Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Blakenende "understands the Dutch were invited to the Pittsburgh G20 Summit because of their role in Afghanistan, where they are viewed as a serious partner who shoulders their international responsibilities." Much of the cable chatter concerns the Dutch eagerness to attend the summit and how that could be exploited by administration officials, including Geithner. The revelations have stirred up controversy in the Netherlands over a Dutch official's suggestion that Geithner tell Dutch Finance Minster Wouter Bos the country was only invited to the summit due to its role in Afghanistan.
In forceful language, the embassy requested that then-National Security Adviser Jim Jones pull aside Bos at the summit, basically to let him know that their continued participation in such high-level events is based on their active international role -- i.e. Afghanistan. In addition, the embassy suggests that late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke call Bos to make sure he "gets" the message.
When non-military, non-diplomat Geithner broached the subject of Afghanistan during a meeting with Bos, the Dutch official was "not pleased". The embassy added that Bos "argued the Netherlands was a small country which had already been doing its fair share in Afghanistan. He also suggested other, bigger countries were not pulling their weight," according to a secret July 13 cable optimistically titled "Netherlands/Afghanistan: Enroute To Yes On Most".
At one point, the embassy conveyed the Dutch defense minister's concern that a jet engine built by two Dutch companies had been dropped from the Pentagon budget. "Cancelling the F-136 program could scuttle Dutch participation in JSF [Joint Strike Fighter] and raise doubts about American defense partnerships as we ask the Dutch to stay the course with us in Afghanistan," the ambassador writes on September 21, 2009. In conclusion, he notes: "When we are asking the Dutch Cabinet and Parliament to make a difficult decision to stay with us as partners in Afghanistan, being perceived as an unreliable partner on JSF could prove to be a large hurdle to overcome."