Rather than look at the accelerating pace of European
military withdrawal from Iraq as an unmitigated disaster for George W. Bush's
foreign diplomacy, it may be better to examine the phenomenon in light of the
interests and capabilities of all parties involved.
To the outside, antiwar-minded observer, the fabulous "Coalition of the Willing"
may well seem to be crumbling for all the right reasons; however, while the
effect may in the end be the same, it is not as if the governments involved
have suddenly been hit by the divine light and espoused noninterventionism.
Rather, what is happening now is the unremarkable unfolding of an alliance that
was never meant to be permanent and for which real individual influence was
never envisioned. Coalition "partners" were little more than set pieces wheeled
out to create an impression of legitimacy for America's war.
If this is so – that the crumbling of the coalition is relatively speaking
a non-event – then why is it worthy of comment? Perhaps because by examining
it we can consider, along with several interesting truths and contradictions,
contemporaneous developments that will affect the foreign policies of both America
and its European allies throughout the year just beginning, a year that will
be crucial in several important regards.
The Current State of Play
LA Times reported last week, some 15 allied countries, including
major participants like Spain, Poland, and Hungary, "have either scaled back
their already relatively small force levels in Iraq, announced pullouts, or
withdrawn their troops altogether in the past year, despite the growing strength
of the insurgency." However, even though the security situation seems to be
deteriorating by the day, the U.S. is not begging these wavering nations to
A quick look at the numbers starts to tell the story. In terms of troop strength,
Poland was the U.S.' fourth-biggest ally (after the UK, South Korea, and Italy),
contributing 2,400 troops. However, in December the Polish government announced
that this total would be cut to 1,700 after the Jan. 30 Iraqi elections and
that by the end of the year the Poles might abandon
Iraq altogether. Apparently, part of this has to do with a new desire to
rebuild relations with war critics and EU heavies France and Germany. A
December poll revealed that over 70 percent of Polish citizens are opposed to
their troops' presence in Iraq.
Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis said on Friday that his country hopes
to follow suit and withdraw its 100 soldiers after the upcoming elections –
a plan that Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkilas quickly denied.
of Hungary's 300 soldiers vacated the premises on Dec. 20. Interestingly
enough, the departure was the result of a popular uprising in the parliament,
which in November overrode the wishes of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany and
refused to extend the mission.
Perhaps the most serious defection has been that of Holland, one of the few
"real" Euro states left standing in Iraq. The country's defense minister, Henk
Kamp, stated last month that the 1,350 Dutch troops in Iraq will be gone by
the end of March. On Friday, Dutch
newspaper Algemeen Dagblad claimed the troops are ready to revolt
over low wages – a claim that was instantly attacked by the top brass at Holland's
military personnel union.
The Self-Defeating Alliance
Whatever the reason may have been, now that the
Dutch are leaving, somebody's going to have to be brought in to protect the
Japanese in the south; their 550-man battalion, constitutionally barred from
firing their weapons except in self-defense, is in peril. So
let's call in the British! After all, it's
not as if they're needed to cover for the Americans in the north or anything.
And it's not as if any of these "peacekeepers" are supposed to be protecting
the Iraqi people they came to liberate, either.
This constant game of allied musical chairs borders on the ridiculous. But
it also makes it easier to understand why the U.S. is not exactly devastated
by coalition losses. What media reports don't say is that the smaller token
forces tend to be kept relatively out of danger, and in some cases have actually
had to be protected by U.S. soldiers, who were aware that even small casualties
might result in a nation pulling the plug on its mission. In other words, coalition
contributions from the smaller countries were always essentially meant to win
the propaganda war, not the military one, to promulgate the myth that there
was a wide international consensus behind the U.S.-led invasion.
That said, when you also factor in the inevitable differences in training,
languages, weapons interoperability issues, etc., it becomes clear that in a
tactical, battlefield sense, working with such forces could actually become
a liability. The American troops hunkered down for combat are not likely to
shed many tears over their departure.
Creating a Coalition for Momentum
We have just touched, indirectly, on the reason
why the Bush administration was so desperate to build an alliance in the run-up
to the war two years ago, and why are they so disinterested in the crumbling
of that alliance now. In the absence of a UN mandate for war, with no demonstrable
evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the Sept. 11 attacks on America, and with
the general public of almost the entire world dead set against war, even the
condescending neocon unilateralists felt the need to give a veneer of consensus
to their grand project. To start any war, mass deception and provocation of
the people's emotions are inevitably required. And fostering a bandwagon mentality
also comes in handy as a means of bludgeoning any moral qualms that might get
in the way.
In a word, what the administration needed was to build momentum. Building an
apparently large and unified military coalition was the third key ingredient
in this recipe. Along with the WMD deceptions and the cynical manipulation of
Americans' emotions regarding Saddam's alleged terrorist threat, it gave the
U.S. government the requisite energy to unleash war on a state that had never
attacked it nor posed any threat to do so.
Building a European coalition was thus vital to the American war drive in Iraq.
As U.S. displeasure at Spain's announcement of troop withdrawals following
the March 11 terrorist attacks there reveals, maintaining a coalition is
to some extent also necessary to prolong a war.
However, one rarely needs any help to lose a war, which is what the Americans seem to be doing in fine style right now. Arguably, at the time of the Spanish tragedy in March there was still a chance for a successful (i.e., not completely humiliating) outcome to the war, but with all the ramped-up resistance efforts and shocking events that have occurred since then – Fallujah Part 1 in April, Abu Ghraib and other abuse scandals, Fallujah Part 2, Mosul, assassinations and bombings everywhere – it has become quite clear that this war will only end in the humiliation of the invaders. Unfortunately for its planners, the Iraqi war has acquired a momentum of its own, one that has no need for allies.
Bad Examples, Big Ideas
In any case, the Bush administration's actions
since the war started to go bust indicate that they no longer care about their
old allies, or about recruiting new ones. After all, look what happened to Leonid
Kuchma. The Ukrainian president, frequently savaged by the U.S. for
helping Macedonia defend itself in 2001 and for allegedly
selling radar systems to Saddam Hussein, surprisingly offered a relatively
large fighting force (1,600 men) to the U.S. war effort from the beginning.
Bush was appreciative, if Kuchma thought that this move would buy him respect
in Washington, he was wrong: a year and a half later, the
U.S. and its Euro allies would go on to vocally, politically, and economically
back the candidate running against his chosen successor, Viktor Yanukovich.
This example of how the U.S. treats its allies is hardly a reassuring one for
any leader thinking of aiding the American war effort in Iraq.
Ironically, America's favored candidate in the Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, had promised during his campaign to bring the troops home – hardly a statement one would expect from a man seeking George Bush's blessings! According to the AFP, almost 50 percent of Ukrainians want the soldiers home immediately. In December, their parliament voted 257-0 in favor of a troop withdrawal. It will be interesting to see what the incoming revolutionary hero actually does; after all, Yushchenko has stressed his major goal as EU integration, and the EU is not big on Iraq.
The Yushchenko case is an eye-opening one, as it shows that the Bush administration
really is committed to its goals of freedom-mongering and, even more
than that, containing Russia. While both policies are rife with dangers, the
U.S. has still been able to gain far more leeway with its European allies regarding
such adventures, partially because of interests shared, but also because they
are less violent than "democracy-building" in Iraq has been. Indeed, we should
not labor under the illusion that the EU intends to be anything less than an
empire – albeit a more "benevolent" one than the American. It is as
if they are trying to prove that instead of the Soviet empire of ideological
coercion, or the American one of foreign military domination, an individual
can participate by choice in a culturally-homogenizing, consumer-generating
force of statism that seeks perennial expansion and assimilation of all the
wild (and economically exploitable) places beyond its borders. And who knows?
They might be right.
In any case, with the neocon Russophobe Condoleezza Rice set to replace Colin
Powell as secretary of state, we can only expect the frenzy of democracy-building
and animosity toward Russia to increase. As American backups, the Europeans
will have their hands full in 2005 with fixing or planning to fix elections
in all those CIS countries still untamed. And let's face it, if there is democracy
to be implanted somewhere, anyone with sense would prefer to do so in less rocky
soil than Iraq.
Europe's Headaches at Home
This year will reveal much regarding the limits
of Europe's ability and desire to implement its sanitized form of empire. Since
there is no force capable of stopping the EU's assimilation drive, it really
becomes a question of when, where, and if the union chooses to stop expanding.
In this regard, the coming year will present it with several major challenges,
ones that will require focus and a certain concentration of political will.
Turkey has received the green light to start negotiations on membership on Oct.
3 (something that has already caused friction with new EU member Cyprus), and
the still unassimilated nations of the Balkans will also require more attention.
But the considerable
public ambivalence within the EU states themselves over these matters indicates
that endless expansion is not a foregone conclusion. Aspiring imperialists will
have to be on their guard at all times.
Indeed, Kosovo alone has the potential to become a major distraction for EU
policy and security planners, and NATO 's 17,500 troops there will probably
have to be beefed up over the next four to six months. Of course, the ranks
are unlikely to be swelled by Americans, who currently make up only around 10
percent of this total. As the UN-administered province swerves drunkenly toward
"independence," perhaps dragging
south Serbia and Macedonia
down with it, riots and attacks on NATO troops will become more and more likely,
especially if these forces try to hinder the final
stages of Albanian ethnic
cleansing of Kosovo's few remaining Serbs. Since they after all inhabit
the general neighborhood, the Europeans have the major interest in stabilizing
the damned province and finding a "final solution" to an intractable problem
that defies any solution (though it is laughable to say, with
the conflict-hungry ICG, that Kosovo is as dangerous as Iraq or Afghanistan
– unless you happen to be a Serb, of course).
A Real Achievement
In conclusion, keeping troops on the ground in
Iraq is no longer in the interests of most European leaders (as if it ever was).
Initial presumptions that supporting Bush would pay off in terms of future political
or economic favoritism have evaporated in light of the fact that Iraq will not
be stabilized anytime soon. There is no money to be made for ordinary foreign
companies unless they have some relationship with the American war effort, and
even many of these have pulled out because the place is just too dangerous right
The U.S. has actually managed in just two short years to decrease the
interest European countries have in Iraq and what goes on there. Recall the
desperate shuttle diplomacy that transpired in late 2002 and early 2003 between
European leaders and the existing Iraqi administration. Then, there was still
something to be discussed, things that could be preserved: infrastructure, institutions,
business agreements, diplomatic relationships, etc. Now, after almost a full
two years of unrelenting warfare, Iraq is no longer recognizable. And no sham
election is going to determine who's really in charge there, or why anyone
with a choice would want to be sucked further into the quagmire.