What happened
The leaders of North Atlantic Treaty Organization member nations are holding a meeting next week in Bucharest, Romania, to discuss the admittance of Ukraine and Georgia, and military progress in Afghanistan, among other topics. Russian President Vladimir Putin, staunchly opposed to membership for the two former Warsaw Pact nations, is attending as a guest. “The fact that NATO can be defeated in Afghanistan puts the Ukraine-Georgia question far down on the list of priorities,” says Thomas Gomart at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris. (The Christian Science Monitor)

What the commentators said
“NATO needs clarity of purpose,” said Donald Rumsfeld in The Wall Street Journal. And that means, among other things, “beginning the process to bring Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance.” NATO’s newer members are pulling more weight militarily than several larger “full NATO members.” And shunning Georgia and Ukraine would give Russia a “green light” to “continue the tired rhetoric of the Cold War,” and help render NATO irrelevant as “the pre-eminent political and military instrument of the world’s democracies.”

If Ukraine and Georgia are denied invitations to join NATO, said Ryan Miller in The Moscow Times, it will be “because Berlin, Paris, and Rome didn’t want to get on the Kremlin’s bad side.” A Polish newspaper reported, inaccurately, that NATO had agreed to sacrifice the two nations for a pledge of Russian military help in Afghanistan. While that particular report may not be true, it raises a legitimate question: “What price is the West willing to pay for Russian support” in “global hotspots” like Iran and Afghanistan?

Germany has already assured Putin that it will “block the U.S. effort” to extend membership to Georgia and Ukraine, said Jim Hoagland in The Washington Post (free registration). But that merely lets President Bush and Putin “off the hook” as they look to end their presidencies “in the soft glow of mutual legacy-burnishing rather than the glare of a clash over future NATO expansion.”

Forget Russia—the U.S. needs to pay more attention to its NATO allies, said A. Wess Mitchell in the Los Angeles Times (free registration). Bush is already having to beg, “cowboy hat in hand,” for more help in Afghanistan. Instead of just chiding the "laggards” for not doing enough, Bush needs to keep “NATO’s workhorses happy.” We can’t win in Afghanistan without them.