News & Views » Don't Panic!... Your war questions answered

Whatever happened to the Coalition of the Willing?

Don't Panic ... your war questions answered

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On Saturday, Australian voters politely informed Prime Minister John Howard he would no longer be eating his Vegemite sandwiches off government china.

Howard was booted from office after 12 years in power and replaced by Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd. Rudd is best known in the United States, if at all, for visiting the Scores strip club in Manhattan while working in New York as a U.N. observer. When the 2003 boys' night out was reported in the Australian press last summer, Rudd apologized, explaining to voters that he only ended up there because he was drunk.

I mention this for two reasons.

First, I think it would be nice to live in a country where politicians say, "Sorry about that, but I was really drunk," and the electorate says, "No worries, mate."

Secondly, Howard's defeat marks the semiofficial death of the so-called Coalition of the Willing.

You may recall, COTW was the marketing term used by the White House in 2003 to convince American voters that an international consensus supported the Iraq invasion. Prewar polls indicated Americans did not want to go into war alone.

"When you have a look at the coalition of the willing ... you can see that this is actually many nations who share the United States' approach," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer less than a week before the invasion.

COTW was also adopted by such Bush Kool-Aid drinkers as the right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation. "'Coalition of the Willing' Already Larger than the 1991 Gulf War coalition" was a headline of one of its news releases.

Did "many nations," in fact, "share the United States' approach" in Iraq? Was the COTW larger than the alliance assembled to carry out the 1991 war to extract Saddam's army from Kuwait?

No and hell no.

During the first Gulf War, Arab nations and Turkey contributed close to 300,000 troops to the invasion force. And financial pledges from other nations, including Saudi Arabia and Japan, exceeded the actual cost of the war.

The COTW for this war was largely a list of small nations who contributed almost nothing to the invasion and subsequent occupation forces. The United States and the United Kingdom provided almost all of the manpower and equipment. The only "approach" most of the countries on the COTW list shared was a desire not to get on the bad side of a vindictive superpower willing to withdraw financial aid or support for NATO membership from any nation unwilling to sign on to the list. No offense to the fine people of Lithuania, but their pledge to allow the United States to fly over their airspace on the way to Iraq did not make the hairs on Saddam's mustache tingle with fear. It was a PR stunt.

Not all the nations on the list were strong-armed into signing up, however. Some nations joined the COTW because their leaders sincerely backed Bush's war effort.

The U.K. under the leadership of Tony Blair was, of course, the most prominent example. Despite the British public's opposition, he backed the invasion to the hilt – and paid for it with his political career.

Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar also backed Bush. He was booted from office hours after terrorists bombed commuter trains in Madrid in March 2004, killing nearly 191 and wounding more than 2,000.

Last month, Poland's Kaczynski twins, Lech (the president) and Jaroslaw (the prime minister) suffered a big defeat in parliamentary elections. The twins backed Bush's war policy. New Prime Minister Donald Rusk used his first speech to Parliament to announced a withdrawal of Polish troops.

And of course, there's Australia. John Howard was a strong backer of Bush's Iraq policy. His defeat means that every significant foreign leader who backed the war as part of the COTW has left office in defeat and/or disgrace.

Americans shouldn't be concerned because of how this affects Iraq. Like I said, non-American contributions to Iraq are negligible.

Americans should be concerned because of what this bodes for the future. Thanks to Bush, supporting the United States is a political liability in democratic nations most like our own. This White House is losing a war of public opinion to terrorists.

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