The Ends of Alliance in Iraq
As the invasion of Baghdad brings this illegal war ever closer to its sickeningly triumphant finale, and as the civilian casualties mount, most anti-war nations are largely sticking to their principles. At the same time, allies of varying levels of enthusiasm are starting to waver, and new enemies are springing up all over the Muslim world.
Although the growing disenchantment with American belligerence in Iraq was long predicted, the US Government has seldom tried to minimize diplomatic damage. Rather, it has gone out of its way to antagonize everyone – friends and foes alike.
No Need for Diplomacy – or Even for Friends
As will soon become clear, Washington's utter disdain for diplomacy has, for the deluded members of the War Party, certain advantages. The strong-arming that built the "coalition of the willing" provided the US an ideal occasion to exert financial and political pressure on countries both smaller and weaker than itself. By picking an unnecessary fight with Iraq, Washington also knew it would provoke opposition from relatively powerful countries like France and Russia – thus "legitimatizing" their subsequent economic freeze-out in the post-Saddam Iraq.
Since the beginning, Washington's goal has been to get as many allies on board as possible, while at the same time suffering the minimum possible interference from any of them. The political necessities of the "coalition" dictate that America's allies also participate in the action – but not too much. After all, this is the Pentagon's war and the Pentagon's alone. They want to call all the shots – and seize all the plunder.
However, now that America's real goals (unilateral military governance of Iraq) are emerging, even the staunchest of allies (namely, Britain and Australia) are getting nervous. Open disagreements and contradictions are coming to the fore. Indeed, the "coalition" that Washington strove so hard to patch together is just as quickly being discarded – or at least allowed to fray. Why is this?
Since the US was eager to act without a UN mandate, it stands to reason that it never cared much for international consensus anyway. Some of the war's leading architects, for example Richard Perle, would be just as glad to see the UN dead. This war was created as a provocation, one that would hammer the final nail into the coffin of the United Nations, and allow America to unilaterally fill the subsequent security vacuum.
Economically speaking, the war was also conducted to justify huge increases in expenditure by the government and the military-industrial companies it subsidizes, at a time when the American economy itself continues to sink. The faithful Brits are in for a rude shock. Only now are they starting to realize that in the post-war Iraq reconstruction game, they will fare little better than France. It will be a bitter pill to swallow, considering that the UK's participation in the war will have severe implications for its credibility abroad, and ultimately for its domestic security against terrorism.
With this neo-con crafted war, America's leaders are showing that they are indeed playing for keeps – and intend to play dirty. Yet they cannot continue to threaten, bombard and antagonize the rest of the world forever. Someday there will come a reckoning, and it will not be a fun one for them. Yet for now the War Party can rest contented, fat and happy in the delusion that overwhelming American firepower is the final and irrefutable solution to the world's problems.
Frustrations Swell in the Muslim World
That the war is creating a new generation of Muslim militants comes as no surprise. In fact, this result was ardently desired by the Israel-first neocons and Christian fundamentalists alike, both of whom long to provoke an epic, apocalyptic "clash of civilizations" with the Muslim world.
All things considered, the Muslim instinct for self-defense is not unjustified. America's desire for regime change all over the Arab world comes pretty close to an open declaration of war on a single culture. Yet the Muslim reaction has been ambivalent. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is allegedly regrouping and American troops are coming under regular attack. Recently, 1,600 Afghan clerics called for jihad against America because of Iraq. The most recent reports suggest that foreign mujahedin are indeed now involved in the fighting in Baghdad.
But the war has had different effects on different parties. Having been hated all along by the Americans, Iran and Syria were naturally opposed. But now, even pro-American Jordan has taken a surprisingly strong stand:
"…Jordan's King Abdullah II today described for the first time the US-British-Australian attacks on neighbouring Iraq as an 'invasion' and said his country had persistently refused to open its airspace to the coalition. Abdullah, in an interview with the official Petra news agency, also expressed his 'pain and sadness' over civilian war casualties in Iraq, whom he described as 'martyrs.'
"'…The Iraqi people have the right to choose their leadership and because we believe in democracy… we cannot imagine that any people will agree to a leadership imposed on them from the outside, against their will,' he said."
Out With a Whimper
This is more than can be said for Germany and France. Their quiet capitulation conjures up two old sayings. The first: "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em;" the second, "c'est la vie."
Recognizing that they can no longer fight the inevitable, Europe's two leading peaceniks are now supporting regime change, if somehow it will end the carnage more quickly. They temper this concession (along with Russia and China) by calling for UN and not US leadership in post-Saddam Iraq. However, this is just wishful thinking on their part. It has long been decided that all of these recalcitrants will be punished for their non-compliance with American hegemony.
Lamentably, since France and Germany had already been frozen out of the reconstruction game by a spiteful Bush Administration, they will effectively gain nothing by shifting to an ambivalent, watered-down pacifism. Yet the Continent's leaders have deviated from the honorable path, and Washington was quick to approve. As if to express America's benevolent spirit of forgiveness, ambassador to France Howard Leach took up a smarmy, patronizing tone,
"…telling the newspaper Le Parisien on Wednesday that Washington and Paris should concentrate on the tasks ahead rather than the acrimony over the war.
"'We need to turn the page and leave that problem behind us,' Leach was quoted as saying. 'Let's get down today to the problems of tomorrow: the reconstruction of Iraq, North Korea, the proliferation of banned weapons in Iran.'
Besides making it sound as if France had caused "that problem" – and not the other way around – the ambassador also haughtily assumes that the French, thus cowed, will now follow whatever orders a war-crazed Washington commands. This is highly unlikely, to say the least.
The Depleted Coalition
The most serious condemnation has come from the Council of Europe's 45 members, some of whom had been included in the "coalition of the willing" previously. Croatia was the bravest of the European turncoats. The former Yugoslav nation – one which owes its freedom to American military training and supplies – declared the war to be "unjustifiable" and asked to be removed from the coalition. When the US Ambassador to Croatia warned darkly of "consequences," the government surprisingly hit back, demanding an apology.
Elsewhere in the "New Europe" anti-American sentiment is rising. Slovenians have protested outside the US Embassy, amidst increasing disenchantment with their country's NATO future, as have the Bosnians. The Czech opposition party has come out with an official anti-war stance, though the sitting government continues to support the US.
On 1 April, Hungary abruptly ended its Iraqi training program at Taszar Air Force Base near the town of Kaposvar. When visiting the place in January, I learned that locals feared the presence of their new "guests" might inspire terrorist attacks from Saddam's supporters. Although the US claimed that only "civil administrators" were being trained at Taszar, the testimony of individual recruits showed that these Kurdish, Iraqi and Turkoman opposition fighters were being prepared for the invasion that is currently unfolding. When I asked the Hungarian military spokesman present about what the Americans were up to, he retorted, "I don't know – and I don't want to know!" This pretty much sums up the way that the Europeans, press-ganged into service, would just like to forget about the whole thing.
Dissent from Down Under, and from The Great White North
Meanwhile, in the southern hemisphere, Australia has witnessed the largest anti-war protests in its history. Although relatively small (at 500,000 people), the Australian peace march captured the strong concern felt among the general population – of which over 50 percent now opposes the war. Normally placid Aussies are now dubbing the alliance the "coalition of the killing."
Although it did not send troops, Canada has also failed to condemn the war outright. Of course, tacit toleration is not good enough for the likes of Richard Perle, who recently blustered that Prime Minister Chrétien has "subordinated" himself to France, and made a "very unfortunate" decision having "implications for the US-Canadian relationship." Perle's rambling, almost stream-of-consciousness attack offers little in the way of reason, however:
"I would like to believe that the people of Canada will say to Chrétien on his way out – 'Why did you put us in this position? This was, in fact, a just war and look at what we now have learned [about] what life was like under Saddam Hussein and there are the weapons of mass destruction and how could you have done this to us."
However, no alliance has been so frayed, nor as exploited, as that with Great Britain. Ironically, America's strongest lackey – err, ally – Tony Blair will receive little, compared to the sacrifices he has made to enable this campaign of idiocy.
The Humiliation of Tony Blair
Every day, Britain's embattled leader looks more and more panicked, more and more like a terrified deer caught in the headlights. As commentators have repeatedly stated, Blair is risking his political future over Iraq. Through his timid and utter obedience to the president of another country, Blair has increasingly isolated himself from his own people. The Brits, definitely more experienced and arguably more intelligent as a group than their transatlantic kin, have deep misgivings about the war. London, after all, has seen the largest antiwar protests in the world. Former cabinet ministers like Robin Cook openly attack the war, as do even poets, while outspoken parliamentarians like George Galloway are urging soldiers in the field to disobey orders to fight. The flamboyant Scotsman, in an interview for Abu Dhabi TV, laid the blame for the war indirectly on Mr. Blair:
"…the MP rejected suggestions that his interview amounted to an act of treachery. He said: 'As for being a traitor, the people who have betrayed this country are those who have sold it to a foreign power and who have been the miserable surrogates of a bigger power for reasons very few people in Britain can understand.'"
Indeed, the only thing preventing a massive parliamentary revolt against King Tony is the lack of a real leader among his opponents.
A Botched Strategy
Yet what has Blair gotten in return for his allegiance to President Bush? The leader of a well-off and powerful country, and not some third world banana republic, Tony Blair hardly needs loan guarantees and other financial carrots. It would seem, therefore, that his vehement support for the war primarily has to do with fostering the Anglo-American "friendship." Yet it also seems to have something to do with – perish the thought – ideals.
It's obvious that Tony fancies himself as both more intelligent and more diplomatic than his American counterpart – perhaps correctly. To sell this war to an unenthused Britain, Blair has had to link it to certain laudable issues, issues that provide a fine chance to put all that intelligence and statesmanship on display for everyone to see.
The wily Blair has thus elucidated three planks of his war campaign: one, a solution on Palestine; two, the need for UN involvement in a post-Saddam Iraq; and three, the return of Iraqi self-rule as soon as possible.
Blair: Contradicted Almost Daily
That said, it must be more than embarrassing for Mr. Blair to wake up every day to find his appeals unceremoniously and categorically rejected by his American minders. This can only be described as outright humiliation. It undermines Blair's credibility with the Americans, the Arabs and with his own people – less than half of who now support the war.
When finally "pinned down" last week over the question of a post-Saddam Iraqi government, Blair revealed that Britain "…would work for a UN resolution "endorsing" the interim government," one in which US officials "…should only be advisors."
However, that is simply wishful thinking compared to the American military dictatorship that will soon take over. On 4 April, even the relatively dovish Colin Powell ruled out a major UN role in the new Iraq – directly contradicting Blair's stated wish.
Believing as he does in the need for diplomatic tact, Tony Blair must be dismayed to find that, this time around, the Americans simply do not care what anyone thinks about them. Whereas in his illegal wars Clinton was always sensitive to world opinion, the current administration seems to relish being a law unto itself. After all, it has ridden out a storm of hostile media coverage from everywhere on earth, barely batting an eye, and ignored the entreaties of scores of concerned nations.
Undermining King Tony – Again
The constant contradiction of Blair's "good wishes" shows that Washington treats even its very best allies with nothing but disinterested spite. For all of the trouble he has caused himself, what has Tony Blair gained? Credited with preventing an Iraq invasion from happening in September 2001, Blair is arguably the only man on earth who could have talked the Americans out of war. Instead, the British poodle trotted along obediently, in the hope of receiving some undetermined doggie snack further along the line. Now he will be lucky to limp home with tail between his legs.
Indeed, even Blair's recent nomination for a Congressional Gold Medal must have come as little comfort for a man who has been repeatedly patronized and humiliated by his closest allies. He almost seems damned to some brutal, Sisyphean labor, sticking his neck out repeatedly only to find it lopped off time and again. Especially after the Neocon posse announced the impending lynching of Syria and Iran, Blair was forced into open opposition with his minders. On 2 April, Foreign Minister Jack Straw announced that there would be "no case whatsoever" for invading Iran. Neither would Britain participate in an attack on Syria, he said.
Blair then went even further, fatally attempting to speak for the US. He declared that America had "no plans" for invading either Syria or Iran:
"'…they (the Americans) have got absolutely no plans to attack those two countries. What they were saying is that it is important that neither country assist those forces loyal to Saddam.'
"He (Blair) told people to stop 'looking for conspiracy theories – Iraq one day and a whole series of countries the next.'"
The prime minister then went on to the other plank in his credibility platform – Palestine:
"…my own judgment is that the single most important thing we can do is to bring some hope to the situation between Israel and Palestine. I believe it is every bit as important that we make progress on that as we get rid of Saddam."
The Wrong Script?
Unfortunately for Tony, his views are not shared across the pond. After rubbishing the notion of endless war in the Middle East as the stuff of "conspiracy theories," Blair was directly contradicted by former CIA chief and ultra-hawk James Woolsey. Pegged for a prominent rule in the Iraqi colonial administration, Woolsey – cheerful about the upcoming "World War IV" against all of Islam – waxed bellicose on the issue:
"…he said the new war is actually against three enemies: the religious rulers of Iran, the 'fascists' of Iraq and Syria, and Islamic extremists like al Qaeda.
"…all three enemies have waged war against the United States for several years but the United States has just 'finally noticed.'
"…singling out Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the leaders of Saudi Arabia, he said, 'We want you nervous. We want you to realize now, for the fourth time in a hundred years, this country and its allies are on the march and that we are on the side of those whom you – the Mubaraks, the Saudi Royal family – most fear: We're on the side of your own people.'"
Of course, this is sheer insanity. Not even the pliant Blair could go along with such a mad scheme. The US, inevitably, will decide to "understand" that some of its allies "lack the stomach" to follow through with the righteous work of democracy-building. And so, reluctantly, with a heavy heart, America will have to go it alone.
Of course, this is what the neocons have wanted all along. By making ridiculous, impossible demands on its allies, the Administration has deviously constructed a mechanism of apparent betrayal; when everyone is either against us or too weak-willed to help, goes the script, it just proves that they don't care for the essential righteousness of the quest. Yet since the responsibilities of empire force us to make noble sacrifices for the sake of democracy, we will have to go it alone – and if we also keep all the spoils of war along the way, well, that's just an irrelevant little side detail.
Differences in Approach: the View from the Field
A further crack in the US-UK coalition has occurred far from the political spotlight – the widening gulf between methods of military engagement.
The British are the junior partners in the war, and they have been treated as such. Their role has largely been restricted to the (incidentally) most difficult "mop-up" operations in Umm Qasr and Basra. And so, as American troops rush by in a blur of tanks, sunglasses and weaponry, living out some sick latter-day idea of manifest destiny, the junior partners just try to keep from being killed by "friendly fire" – living out their post-imperial, humiliated destiny as a caretaker force, looking like some worn-down, latter-day Jeeves. For all that, the Brits still have definite – and differing – views on engagement rules.
G.I. Joe, Meet Nigel Pith Helmet
An Australian journalist last week spoke comically of an American infantryman near Nasiriyah, describing him as, "…clad in so much body armour he looked like Darth Vader."
According to the report, the Brits are "baffled" at the way their American comrades treat Iraqi civilians:
"…one captain in the Royal Marines, watching a US unit monitor a checkpoint, said: 'the Americans are still behaving like invaders, not liberators. They behave as if they hate these people.'
"Many American troops speak as though they do. You often hear them describe 'Eye-rakis' in disparaging language. One US officer in charge of delivering humanitarian aid earlier this week likened the crush of people waiting to get hold of food and water to a pack of stray dogs. His troops lashed at those pushing to the front with fists and rifle butts, even firing shots into the air.'"
The Brits are not merely more culturally sensitive, however. They are also more experienced, and therefore less paranoid:
"…this was no better illustrated than in the first skirmish of the land war, where the American 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit was handed what should have been the easy capture of the port of Umm Qasr.
"Royal Marine officers watched incredulously as their US compatriots bombed and shelled the town for five days. The experience of nearly 30 years policing Ulster has taught British forces that the only way to root out gunmen is to patrol on foot, searching house by house.
"The rhetoric of US soldiers is often provocative. An American colonel, asked what the role of the Fifth Corps would be, replied: 'we are going in there. We are going to root out the bad guys and kill them.' His men whooped and punched the air as if they were watching a football match.
"A British officer who witnessed this exchange shook his head, saying: 'We are working from a different script but you won't get anyone in Whitehall to admit it.'"
Learning from Empire's Experience – or Not
Indeed, though most Brits are not saying it in so many words, the few who are attest to a widely held feeling of alienation from the American way:
"…military analyst Stuart Crawford said the difference in attitude was a question of training. 'Man for man, British soldiers are better trained and better disciplined,' said Mr Crawford, a retired lieutenant colonel in the 4th Royal Tank Regiment, who served in the 1991 Gulf War.
"'The British have a long history of colonialism and so of dealing with people of different races, and many soldiers have their experience of Northern Ireland to back them. I've worked with Americans and I like them, but there is little history of dealing with civilian population in the same way. At times, American warfare can be characterised by an overwhelming arrogance both militarily and in their culture. They assume that everyone wants to be an American.'"
The Anglo-American rift became more pronounced after last week's civilian checkpoint shooting. The murder of helpless women and children was only the most recent of many incidents that confirmed the Brits' negative impressions of American troops:
"…Monday's checkpoint shootings were seen as a disaster for the coalition's efforts to win Iraqi hearts and minds. Asked if they undermined attempts to court the local population, Colonel Chris Vernon, a British army spokesman, replied: 'It does indeed, and if you were a civilian watching that you would interpret it in that way.'
"The difference in approach was epitomised yesterday when the Royal Marines in four southern Iraqi towns swapped their helmets for berets as a sign of goodwill. American troops wear helmets at all times and checkpoint troops cover their faces with goggles and scarves.
"'The Americans have got a more blanket approach to things,' said another. 'You will never see their Marines wandering around in berets. They still wear hard helmets in Bosnia. You have got to be very careful you do not win the battle and lose the war. We have to be sensitive and we do not want to build up any resentment in the country.'
"…tensions between the two countries' forces had already surfaced after the deaths of three British servicemen in two 'friendly fire' incidents after which one survivor accused an American A10 pilot of showing no regard for human life. A Royal Marine commander also accused the Americans of abandoning his men during a joint operation in southern Iraq on the first night of the war."
Note to Britain: Christmas is Cancelled
For the major opponents of the war – France, Russia and Germany – sticking to principles was perhaps made easier by recourse to fatalism. Perhaps they knew all along that whether or not they joined up, the big contracts would inevitably go to US companies – as a glum Britain is discovering only too late:
"…the Government's failure to prepare for the rebuilding of Iraq is allowing American firms free rein to secure the biggest contracts.
"Executives from many of Britain's biggest companies are set for a showdown with officials next week as fears grow that the Government's pre-war reluctance to address the issue means that they risk losing lucrative deals worth billions of pounds. The criticism intensified this week after Washington published details of its plan for the wholesale reconstruction of post-war Iraq.
"The project, said to be the most ambitious since the Marshall Plan for Europe after the Second World War, will see American firms win contracts to rebuild Iraq's key public services including education, health and transport systems. It is estimated that they could be worth up to $180 billion (£117 billion) over 10 years.
"'…the concern at the back of everyone's mind is that this is Kuwait all over again,' said Nigel Peters, deputy chief executive of BCCB. 'Then Britain was at the forefront of the military effort but lost out on the reconstruction.'"
However, while Britain has "agonized" over the morally correct way to proceed,
"…Washington has set aside such considerations and proceeded to the contract stage. The eight deals put out to tender by the American government's Agency for International Development (USAid) will see private firms set up an Iraqi national health service, build a network of five new airports (to be opened to commercial flights within 12 months of the end of the war), and create a 'politically neutral' school curriculum.
"Most controversially, USAid is also inviting bids for companies to oversee the reform of Iraq's local government. This includes dividing the country into 18 regions and training of its 'traditional and civil society leaders . . . in the fundamental process of democratic government.' Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary for Trade and Industry, telephoned the director of USAid last week to complain that British companies were apparently excluded from bidding for the contracts."
A Surprise Ending in Iraq?
However, the game is far from over. As the situation continues to develop, Britain and the rest of the depleted coalition will find that their supervisors' power to give orders may be crippled by internecine strife. The Bush Administration is breaking up into two camps: those of the State Department and the Pentagon. The current display of what one insider called "Washington politics at its dirtiest" is threatening chaos and disorganization for the new Iraqi administration. The infighting may even make predicting future political and economic alliances impossible. There is still the chance that, whether or not the American designs are sanctioned by international institutions, those countries that have displayed diplomatic tact and sympathy for the Iraqis may win out in the long term. It is hard to believe that after causing so much needless death and destruction America will be easily forgiven by the Iraqi people.
Although Washington is riding high now, it will not be on top forever. For his own sake, Tony Blair had better hope that the same factors that led to his humiliation will also bring about his vindication.
Previous articles by Christopher Deliso on Antiwar.com
Christopher Deliso is a freelance writer and Balkan correspondent for Antiwar.com, UPI, and private European analysis firms. He has lived and traveled widely in the Balkans, southeastern Europe and Turkey, and holds a master's degree with distinction in Byzantine Studies from Oxford University. In the past year, he has reported from many countries, including Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Hungary, Greece, the Republic of Georgia and the Turkey-Iraq border. Mr. Deliso currently lives in Macedonia, and is involved with projects to generate international interest and tourism there.
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