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AF"Lack" -- NATO's AWOL Allies in Afghanistan

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Watching the President unveil his well-constructed Obama Doctrine for Afghanistan and Pakistan this morning, it is all too clear from his message that the safety of Europeans is as much on the line as the safety of Americans as events in Afghanistan unfold. But you wouldn't know it given how many NATO members are AWOL in Afghanistan. If Al Qaeda and other extremists are able to replicate the Afghanistan sanctuaries of pre-2001, I dare so (and so just did President Obama) no European capital would be immune from renewed plotting and planning by Osama Bin Laden and his extremist allies.

Shortly, President Obama will follow up on his initiative with a trip to Europe to attend ceremonies commemorating the 60th anniversary of NATO, which will be hosted jointly by France and Germany. In a gesture designed to rebuild trans- Atlantic ties, President Nicholas Sarkozy will lead France back into full NATO membership. That is all well for the good, and as a strong proponent of a redesigned and revitalized NATO, I believe that France's reintegration into NATO's command structure is a good step in the right direction.

But NATO's collective operational strategy in Afghanistan is a big black mark on its record.

If one hung around NATO's Brussels headquarters very long, one would not have to dig very deep to discover why NATO is in such disarray over Afghanistan . Based on the number of "red cards," conditions, and caveats that NATO members have placed in the way of developing a unified, cohesive strategy to reverse a losing struggle against extremists in Afghanistan, Europeans must have unilaterally decided that the threat from Al Qaeda mysteriously evaporated and Afghanistan is a quagmire that is a bridge too far.

On the eve of the NATO Summit, Americans have good reasons to be disappointed by the indifference many European leaders have displayed to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. Undoubtedly, this is one of the legacies of Euro-resentment generated against the Bush administration's follies in Iraq. But there is a new U.S. president, and a new more determined and cohesive Taliban about to unleash a new Spring offensive against NATO forces in Afghanistan. And Al Qaeda, by just about any respected intelligence operative, is regrouping and reeneergizing its command and control structure vital to global operational planning.

Most NATO members, particuarly the Germans, seem content to rest on their 20th century laurels, rather than adapt to 21st century realities. However, with all the hoopla attendant with the festivities, NATO's future and it ability to prove its utility as an alliance is fundamentally linked to the fight against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There are 26 members in NATO, but the brunt of the effort in Afghanistan is being borne principally by the United States, Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and Denmark. That leaves, by my count, more or less 21 NATO members happily enjoying the benefits of NATO membership without shouldering the front line burden in Afghanistan. And most of those 21 good NATO friends are fair weather spectators, if that.

Ironically, the two major NATO nations hosting the 60th anniversary Summit -- German and France -- are the very two NATO members most responsible for undermining NATO's ability to reverse the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

The Germans have stayed conveniently on the sidelines in a perpetual "Ocktoberfest" mode in northern Afghanistan -- a region as far away from the fighting as they can get deploying their right to flag a "national exception" -- self-imposed restrictions on the conditions of their deployment. Every intelligence report on the subject indicates that Al Qaeda operatives make no distinction between a New York or a Berlin, just because Germany is pretending it is not in the fight in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda.

I single Germany out in particular because of all the European beneficiaries of NATO's longevity, Germans owe more to NATO than any other nation. Germany's charade toward Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is no longer defensible and the Germans deserve to called out, and Americans have good reason to be more than annoyed at Berlin as the President unveils a well-constructed and integrated approach to the "AFPAK" crisis that commits more American treasure and blood to the fight.

Perhaps Chancellor Angela Merkel will muster the necessary political courage in the days ahead to meet President Obama's challenge and get out of the foxhole once and for all and rejoin NATO on the frontlines in Afghanistan. If Germany leads, the other 20 sideliners may follow. If she has to go in front of the German people and make the case once and for all, I'll help her write her script. In the name of our troops in Afghanistan, I'll do whatever it takes to get the Germans to meet our president halfway. The Americans deserve a tangible sign of support from Germany.

The Germans are not the only rubberneckers. Despite the warming of relations with Washington, the French, too, have red-carded the use of NATO surveillance aircraft needed to better target Al Qaeda. Why? They refuse to permit NATO to spend the money necessary to deploy the aircraft to Afghanistan. That has hampered NATO's mission, as well. Mon Dieu. Even if Paris is not willing to put more ground troops into Afghanistan, at least don't make it harder for other NATO allies shouldering the fighting.

President Obama's remarks this morning highlighted how quickly and seamlessly his national security team was able to construct a commendably hard and soft power approach to the AFPAK crisis. He is fulfilling his campaign commitment to focus much needed attention on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The "Euro"phoria over Obama's election provides good political capital for NATO's European leaders to translate renewed trans-Atlantic friendship into an appropriate, effective and constructive response to the Obama Doctrine by convincing Europeans they have as much at stake as Americans do in the future stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Afghanistan is not the only challenge facing NATO, but it is the most imporant, and how Europeans empirically/objectively/tangibly respond to the Obama Doctrine will have a telling impact on the future of trans-Atlantic relations.