On a day where the French women's soccer team lost a big game to the US team, I feel that we should give the French their due. When folks talk about NATO and Afghanistan, the French get lumped in with the Germans, Italians and Spaniards as a heavily caveated contingent that didn't see much combat. That label fit in 2007 but not now. Today, four French soldiers lost their lives in Eastern Afghanistan, and this is not that unusual, as President Sarkozy re-deployed the French contingent from safe Kabul to dangerous Kapisa (even though they are close to each other on a map). This comes on the heels of both Sarkozy's visit to the troops and an announcement that France will be cutting its commitment by one quarter by the end of 2011 and may be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2013.
We have very conflicting images of the French--aggressive to the point of recklessness in Libya and passive in Afghanistan. The truth, as always, is in between with the French clearly now among the burden bearers (as opposed to merely consuming rations) in both Afghanistan and Libya. The question remains--is this Sarkozy or is this a significant change in how France sees NATO? Given the budget cuts facing the French military and given how unreliable the Germans (and the EU as a NATO substitute) have been, it may be the case that even a less Atlanticist French President will see that there really is no alternative to NATO.
And, I will repeat, NATO's demise is exaggerated.