Obama is now in Lisbon and the first issue that was addressed was an agreement on the NATO missile defense structure. It will not be the system that former President Bush suggested, and it will not name Iran explicitly due to objections by Turkey to doing so. The Russian president will come in later after the regular NATO Council meeting for the joint NATO-Russia Council and its agenda will include trying to get Russian cooperation on the system. Rumors abound that the cost of the missile defense may be too high for participating nations, especially those going into an economic tailspin.
A key issue, and the backdrop for the Lisbon meeting, is the New START treaty and reports indicate that Obama will make a full court press for ratification by using the summit as a platform to argue for early action on the treaty. Other reports in European papers condemn the Republicans for their obstruction. This was reaffirmed by the IHT editorial (from NY Times) titled “Perilous Obstruction.” It called for Obama to “fight hard” for the treaty.
The Lisbon summit will soon address some of the key strategic issues and decision on Afghanistan including basic goals, timelines, and the commitment of troops and resources. The BBC had earlier accused Obama of a lack of leadership but they have changed their tune in response to his setting of a new timetable. However, the Right remains critical of withdrawal even as Europeans are starting to draw down from their combat role. In response, the military has been pushing the idea that the “conditions on the ground” are the only acceptable metric to begin a withdrawal. Little real debate has emerged on the situation in the Afghanistan and our end-game strategy. The replacement of July 11th 2011 with 2014 as the date for combat drawdown will be a source of debate in the coming months as it is incorporated into the NATO framework. The Independent on Saturday will have the headline “In Lisbon They Talk, in Afghanistan They Die.” One TV station here had a picture of a British soldier being brought home.
The International Herald Tribune had several key op-eds today, one by President Barack Obama (probably taken from the New York Times) with the title “Europe and America, aligned for the future,” saying that Europe and America have been and will be “shoulder to shoulder” working together in the alliance for “security and prosperity for decades to come.”
The other IHT op-ed entitled “Next, a NATO-Russia strategic concept,” by Oksana Antonenko and Igor Yurgens. The essence of their argument was that NATO-Russian relations could be improved by creating a a joint “Strategic Concept”. They gave five elements of that concept: Multi-tiered confidence-building measures, stabilization of Afghanistan, enhancing interoperability between NATO and Russia (a non-starter now in my view), and reforming the NATO-Russia Council. The latter aims, on some issues, to turn the joint council into a “decision-making” body. The problem with the article is that it does not outline and address the obstacles on both sides of some of the recommendations and the real end-goal.
The last op-ed in the IHT is an article “How the Afghans see it” by Karl Inderfurth and Theodore L. Eliot Jr., which reports results of a opinion poll in Afghanistan that finds that people actually believe things are getting better. This is in contrast to a number of articles we have seen here from European reporters on the ground. The point by the authors was that the people of Afghanistan have not given up and neither should the international community. This is against a background of reports that President Karzai has turned on his allies and has a double track strategy in part to gain popular support and push back on demands for stopping corruption by his people.