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The Dutch Retreat

AMSTERDAM – The Dutch army has been operating as part of NATO in a remote and unruly part of Afghanistan since 2006. Fighting against the Taliban has been heavy at times. Twenty-one Dutch lives have been lost, out of about 1,800 men and women.

The Dutch were supposed to have been relieved by troops from a NATO partner in 2008. No one volunteered. So their mission was extended for another two years. But now the Social Democrats in the Dutch coalition government have declared that enough is enough. The Dutch troops will have to come home. Since the Christian Democrats do not agree, the government has fallen.

This is highly inconvenient for US President Barack Obama, who needs all the help he can get in Afghanistan, even from small allies, if only for political reasons. To many Americans, especially of the neo-conservative persuasion, Dutch behavior might confirm all their suspicions about perfidious Europeans, addicted to material comforts, while remaining childishly dependent on US military protection. When the going gets tough, they argue, the Europeans bow out.

It is true that two horrendous world wars have taken the glamour out of war for most Europeans (Britain is a slightly different story). The Germans, in particular, have no stomach for military aggression, hence their reluctance in Afghanistan to take on anything but simple police tasks. Mindful of Ypres, Warsaw, or Stalingrad, not to mention Auschwitz and Treblinka, many regard this as a good thing. Still, there are times when pacifism, even in Germany, is an inadequate response to a serious menace.