Chicago NATO Summit Success: Inside and Out

The Chicago NATO Summit is over. The leaders of over fifty countries have left for home. However, this event has left an indelible mark on NATO and the city itself.

Inside the halls of McCormick Place, a clearer security picture of Afghanistan came into view. We already knew a few things. Washington has long said that it expects to remove the last American combat troops by 2014. On Friday, President Holland reaffirm that French engagement in ISAF would end by year’s end. What was less certain preconference was how Afghan Security Forces would fit into the picture. NATO has officially decided to place Afghans in charge of most security functions by mid-2013. A year of continued ISAF involvement should allow time to mentor and further education the Afghan military and police. Hopefully, this may allow more American soldiers to return prior to 2014.

Challenges remain in the details and politics. Funding will not be cheap: about $4 billion per year. Facing budget cuts, will Western nations really have the commitment to pay Afghan policemen over domestic needs? Moreover, Kabul remains very corrupt under President Hamid Karzai. Will Afghan civilians themselves trust Afghan forces or respect their authority over those of local mullahs? It is, however, a necessary step to ensure the long-term stability of the Afghan regime.

Opening up Pakistan to NATO supply lines continues is also a work in progress.  Despite an invitation to the Summit and a talk with President Obama (albeit brief), Prime Minister Asif Ali Zardari has not opened up these routes. Without these routes, NATO has had expand their Northern supply routes through at least four former Soviet Union countries and Russia. It is more expensive. Moving troops out of Afghanistan through those routes will take longer too.  To understand their hesitancy, think about it from Pakistan’s perspective. They have been burned by the US before. They were a close buddy of the US during the eighties only to be shunned by Congress as soon as our involvement in Afghanistan ended. They see America as an unsteady ally, so they want to extract as much of a toll as possible before the exit. Despite rhetoric regarding an apology for the accidental bombing of Pakistanis, it really comes down to money. Negotiations continue.

Outside the red zone, the public is very positive regarding the city’s management of the Summit. “The City that Works” emblazons the cover of the Chicago Sun-Times. Pieces of paper thanking Chicago police are taped to poles downtown. The city of Chicago was even lauded by President Obama at the end of the conference. Chicago police were diligent yet generally passive: arrests were in the dozens not hundreds. Intelligence was vital in infiltrating the protest movement and stopping the most dangerous before the Summit began. Behind the scenes the host committee led by Lori Healey proved that Chicago can welcome the world with safety and style.Other than a few professional protesters, most agree that the Chicago of gangsters and Dem ’68 is gone for good.

This is not to discount the concerns of the thousands of peaceful protesters (who formed the vast majority). While NATO and NGOs are spending great sums on education in Afghanistan, many were asking for a more just and equitable society here at home. Admittedly, NATO has next to nothing to do with Wall Street or banks. It is not an economic forum. Still, the continued presence of the Occupy Movement suggests that young people remain disappointed with America’s handling of domestic issues. Foreign funding may well get much more criticized in the coming years as our soldiers return. It could be that their messages would get much more media attention in Chicago than at the G8 conference in rural Maryland.


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