NATO to bear burden for ‘make-or-break’ Afghan mission
TALLINN, Estonia — President Bush on Nov. 28 challenged NATO members to boost their own defense spending and be willing to acceptroughcombatassignments,arguing that the alliance is now on a make-or-break mission in Afghanistan.
“To succeed in Afghanistan, NATOalliesmustprovidetheforces NATO military commanders require,” the president said in Estonia, before heading to Latvia for a summit to chart the next two years’ course for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “Member nations must accept difficult assignments if we expect to be successful.”
Mr. Bush also blamed al Qaeda for the increased violence in Iraq, and vowed not to withdraw troops from that nation as he prepared to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nourial-MalikiinJordanonNov.29.
“There’s a lot of sectarian violence taking place — fomented, in my opinion, because of the attacks by al Qaeda causing people to seek reprisal,” Mr. Bush said at a press conference with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
In the middle of a four-day international trip to deal with the twin wars to which he has committed U.S. troops, Mr. Bush finds himself at the limit of military options and pushing other nations to step up their commitments.
In Iraq, he is dependent on how well Mr. al-Maliki’s government handles the violence and political problems that threaten to tear the nation apart.
But on Afghanistan, he is not alone. Canadian Prime Minister StephenHarper,BritishPrimeMinister Tony Blair and NATO Secretary-GeneralJaapdeHoopScheffer have called for European nations to stepuptheircommitmentsandease the burdens on the U.S., Canada, Britain and the Netherlands.
“It is not acceptable that our mission in the south still lacks 20 percent of its combined joint status of requirements,” Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said, calling on governments to stop adding conditions and limits to how their forces can be deployed. “We can ill afford reconstruction armies that cannot handle combat.”
During his swing through these two Baltic countries, Mr. Bush pointedly praised Estonia and Latvia for their commitments in the war on terrorism, and National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley said those two nations are “punching above their weight” in terms of their military commitments.
The two countries have committed nearly 10 percent of their armed forces to Afghanistan and Iraq, and are “providing leadership in European institutions, despite their small size.”
Asked if that meant some larger NATO members such as Germany were failing in their obligations, Mr. Hadley did not answer directly, saying instead it was right for Latvia and Estonia to be “acknowledged and recognized.”
Also on Nov. 28 Mr. Bush:
lTook a swipe at Belarus, whose authoritarian leader is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Bush said oppression of democracy advocates in the former Soviet state “offends the conscience of Europe, and it offends the conscience of America.”
Said NATO will invite other na- tions to join at the next summit, in 2008, with Croatia, Albania and Macedonia being likely candidates. Georgia is also a potential member, and Mr. Bush said the United States supports Ukraine’s membership — iftheUkrainianswantitthemselves.
Said talking to Iran and Syria about the situation in Iraq is a job for the sovereign Iraqi government, not the United States.
The president also ducked a question about whether Iraq has fallen into a “civil war,” instead focusing on what he called increased sectarian violence. He said fomenting such violence is part of al Qaeda’s plan in Iraq.
“TheSamarrabombingthattook place last winter was intended to create sectarian violence, and it has. The recent bombings were to perpetuate the sectarian violence,” he said.
Meanwhile, Democrats are focusing on trying to get Mr. Bush to say the conflict has turned into a civil war.
“While news agencies, numerous experts and many American and Iraqi leaders all agree that Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, President Bush neither acknowledges the facts on the ground nor recognizes that his administration’s failed policies have contributed to the chaos,” said Democratic National Committee press secretary Stacie Paxton.
President Bush, right, toasts with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves before the start of their lunch together at Estonian Theater, in Tallinn, Estonia on Nov. 28.