Thursday, December 06, 2007

Coalition of the no longer willing

Hendrik Hertzberg's new comment in this week's New Yorker on President Bush's foreign policy incompetence couldn't be better timed. There is, of course, Bush's stammering, defensive press conference Tuesday, in which he tried to explain how the NIE report concluding that Iran suspended whatever progress it made towards developing a nuclear weapons program in early 2003 actually strengthened his argument that it had not. Hertzberg doesn't talk about the NIE report because his article didn't appear until in print until Tuesday.

Instead, Hertzberg's attention directed towards a development that few others in the mainstream media have discussed since Iraq went south in early 2004 -- the number of countries that once formed the president's "coalition of the willing" on the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that have abandoned the war and, not so subtly, their support for American foreign policy. On March 13, 2004, three days after al-Qaeda inspired terrorists bombed passenger trains in Madrid, Spain's voters tossed out the conservative government that had sent 1,300 soldiers to Iraq. Those soldiers were back home within three months. In May 2005, Romano Prodi defeated Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Bush's most vocal supporter in Western Europe, and promptly brought Italy's 3,000 troops home. Voters in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Ukraine and Norway replaced their leaders who had committed troops to Iraq in service of American objectives. None of these countries any longer have troops in Iraq.

Tony Blair, the British Labor party leader tagged as Bush's "poodle" in the British press, was all but forced to relinquish his post after it became clear that voters were prepared to end Labor's majority in parliament. Gordon Brown, Great Britain's new prime minister, has promised to bring home the remaining 5,000 of the original 45,000 troops originally committed to Iraq. And Bush's last real public defender on the world stage, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, saw his conservative government ousted in that country's most recent election. So dissatisfied were Australian voters with Howard's Ed McMahon-like fealty towards Bush that he lost his seat in parliament. The new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, signed the Kyoto climate-change treaty in Bali this week, leaving the United States standing alone as the only Western power to reject it.

In November 2006, American voters replaced Republican majorities in the House and Senate with Democrats who, according to the deep-thinkers in the Washington media, were sent to Congress to force President Bush to make major changes on Iraq. That hasn't happened. Since the Democratic "sweep" of the congressional mid-term elections, 984 more American soldiers have died in combat; over 12,000 have been wounded. Since March 2003, Great Britain has suffered 173 total casualties; Italy 33; Poland 23; Spain 11; and Australia 2, numbers that don't compare to the United States. But these losses, combined with the futility of the American mission in Iraq, were enough to force their respective governments to abandon what was, at best, a patchwork coalition held together, in the case of the Eastern European countries, by foreign aid and, for Great Britain and Australia, a misguided belief that a victory would enhance their world-wide prestige.

Regime-change in Iraq was an after-the-fact goal of the United States after the invasion failed to turn up WMD. That goal, of course, has been achieved. To what end, as Hertzberg notes, is not clear. What is clear -- stunning, is a better word -- is that the Bush administration has survived two intervening elections since the Iraq war began without having to make major policy changes in order to remain in power. All that has changed since November 2006 is that approximately 20,000 more troops have been committed to Iraq -- the "surge" of February 2007. Public opinion polls tell us that Americans are highly dissatisfied with the Bush administration's management of the Iraq war. But their actual votes -- and demands on their leaders -- say otherwise.

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