Saturday, July 7, 2012

Afghanistan as Best Buds?

The US just declared Afghanistan to be a Major Non-NATO Ally.  What does that mean?  Whatever you want it to mean, really.  It does not obligate the US to defend Afghanistan, as it is not a treaty subject to ratification by Congress.  NATO is a treaty that obligates the US (well, sort of) to defend its members, so that it is why I am so upset about relatively thoughtless enlargement to include countries that the US may not defend (Georgia). 

To make it abundantly clear that this status has dubious meaning, apparently the last country to be declared a major non-nato ally was: Pakistan.  How is that going now?  Well, the US violates Pakistan's sovereignty on a daily basis with drone attacks and dramatically with a raid now and then.  Pakistan returns the favor by supporting terrorism in Afghanistan (and India), helping to cause the deaths of American soldiers and those from NATO members and partners. 

So, the context here really matters a great deal--that the US is trying to reassure Afghanistan and send messages to the neighborhood that it will care after 2014 when most of the foreign troops are supposed to be gone.  This is not 1989 again--that the world will not forget about Afghanistan this time like it did when the Soviets withdrew.
"We see this as a powerful commitment to Afghanistan's future," she [Secretary of State Clinton] said at a news conference in the grand courtyard of Kabul's Presidential Palace. "We are not even imagining abandoning Afghanistan."
That's ok.  Everyone else is imagining it for her. The reality of the designation is that it will mean that Afghanistan can and will get:
"access to U.S. defense supplies and training and cooperation... The declaration allows for streamlined defense cooperation, including expedited purchasing ability of American equipment and easier export control regulations. Afghanistan's military, which is heavily dependent on American and foreign assistance, already enjoys many of these benefits. The non-NATO ally status guarantees it will continue to do so."
That is, until the US no longer feels like doing so.

US troops in smaller and more secret form will stick around past 2014 as will American airpower based in or near Afghanistan.  This is hardly a very credible commitment on its own, but the good news for Afghanistan is that American Presidents current and future will not want to be blamed for "losing" Afghanistan.*  This will the US a continuing incentive to stick around in some form, one that is a bit more enduring and meaningful than the label of the night/week/month.
*  Of course, people can accuse any President of losing a country at any time.

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