Iraq haunts U.S. in Munich

February 10, 2008

At the Munich Conference on Security Policy back in 2003, Joschka Fischer stared down Donald Rumsfeld and told him what he thought about Washington’s case for invading Iraq.

“I am not convinced. That is my problem,” the feisty German foreign minister told a glaring Pentagon chief.

Five years on, Iraq has dropped down the agenda of this high-profile annual gathering of foreign policy and defence experts, but it still casts a long shadow over U.S. efforts to press its policy in Europe.

This year in Munich, the focus has been on Afghanistan. U.S. officials, spearheaded by Rumsfeld’s successor Robert Gates, have pressed European nations to send more troops there and take a more active role in repelling a fierce Taliban insurgency.

On Sunday, Gates made a case for Afghanistan that might have made even Fischer proud — but Iraq is getting in the way.

“Our mistakes in Iraq have made it hard to convince Europe to do more in Afghanistan,” Lindsey Graham, Republican U.S. Senator from South Carolina told me. “These are two different conflicts but they are lumped together here.”

That’s partly the Bush administration’s fault. It has lumped Afghanistan and Iraq together under the banner of its “global war on terror”.

As long as Bush remains in office, it will be hard for European leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel to convince their deeply sceptical publics that a stronger commitment is needed in Afghanistan.

When a President Clinton, McCain or Obama comes knocking, it may be tougher to resist.

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