Monday, February 22, 2010

Dutch on the way out

You may have noticed the people in the orange and black skating uniforms that keep winning the Olympic medals -- those speedy Dutch skaters, wow! But did you note that over the past weekend, the Dutch government fell, because of disagreement over whether to keep troops in Afghanistan? Those people over there don't like this war. And they want the contingent of less than 2000 fighters they offered to the effort through NATO out of Afghanistan pronto.

According to the New York Times:

The question plaguing military planners was whether a Dutch departure would embolden the war's critics in other allied countries, where debate over deployment is continuing, and hasten the withdrawal of their troops as well.

"If the Dutch go, which is the implication of all this, that could open the floodgates for other Europeans to say, 'The Dutch are going, we can go, too,' " said Julian Lindley-French, professor of defense strategy at the Netherlands Defense Academy in Breda. ...

"The majority of the Dutch people say, 'Go, we’ve done enough. Let other countries do it now.' That’s a big majority and also the majority in the Parliament," said Nicoline van den Broek-Laman Trip, a former senator from the Liberal Party...

They may like President Obama in Europe, but they don't like his war -- in fact, they gave him a fancy prize in the hope he'd follow a peaceful track. He hasn't.

I find it hopeful to watch NATO countries try to back off from the wars our previous administration dragged them into -- and that this one continues. In this context, I've enjoyed reading Tony Judt's description in Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 of how the NATO alliance came into being.

"It was by no means inappropriate that at the NATO Treaty-signing ceremony in Constitution Hall, Washington, on April 9th 1949, the band played 'I've Got Plenty of Nothing...'...The French thus welcomed NATO as the guarantee against a revived Germany... The Dutch and Belgians saw in NATO an impediment to future German revanchism. The Italians were included to help shore up [Prime Minister] Alcide De Gasperi's domestic support against Communist critics. The British regarded the NATO Treaty as a signal achievement in their struggle to keep the US engaged in Europe's defense. And the Truman Administration sold the agreement to Congress and the American people as a barrier to Soviet aggression....

"NATO was a bluff. As Denis Healey, a future British defense minister observed in his memoirs. 'for most Europeans, NATO was worthless unless it could prevent another war; they were not interested in fighting one.'"

Once upon a time -- a time less marked by imperial overreach -- nations formed alliances more to avoid wars than to prosecute them ...

More on Judt's fascinating history over the next few days.

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