Bush’s "Coalition of the Willing," that motley crew of cajoled and pressured mostly minor nations that provided token troops to send to Iraq along with the U.S. juggernaut during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is looking decidedly smaller today.
Since 2004, 17 countries, which had sent a total of 10,500 troops have pulled out entirely and brought everyone home. These include Italy, which at one point had the fourth-largest contingent of troops in the coalition (3200) and Ukraine, which had 1650 troops in Iraq, and also Iceland, which at one point had sent 2 soldiers, making it the smallest member of the invasion force.
Of course, the coalition was always much less than it appeared. Initially, the White House had announced that Costa Rica was a part of the coalition, but it had to drop that claim when Costa Rica pointed out that it has no army.
Most of the other countries in a coalition that at one point purportedly numbered 48 actually barred their soldiers from engaging in combat. Poland was the biggest of these, with 2500 troops in Iraq at one point, but with nobody fighting. Indeed, the only countries that actually supplied combat troops to do any fighting alongside U.S. forces were the U.K., which initially sent a force of 45,000, Australia, which sent 2000, and Denmark, which sent 300. Today, at a time that Bush is adding American troops, Britain’s troops in Iraq are down to just 5500, with most slated to be gone by year’s end. Poland’s non-combat contingent is down to 900, Australia has pulled out all but 628, and Denmark has 460.
Gone altogether along with Italy, Ukraine and Iceland are the Netherlands, Spain, Japan, Thailand, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Nicaragua, Singapore, Norway, Portugal, New Zealand, Philippines and Tonga.
That is to say, the U.S.-led "coalition," in addition to the severely attritioned Britain, Australia, Poland and Denmark, is down to just 23 countries. But of these, only two are providing troops in four digits-the U.K. and South Korea, which has 1200. The other 17 members, which include Rumania, Georgia, El Salvador, the Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, Latvia, Mongolia, Albania, Lithuania, Slovenia, Armenia, Boznia-Herzegovena, Estonia, Macedonia, Kazakhstan, Moldova and Bulgaria, are only providing a grand total of 2278 soldiers-none of them in combat roles.
This is quite a grand coalition our president has assembled!
It’s also a coalition that will scatter like chaff in a storm if the Bush administration follows the advice of Vice President Cheney and attacks Iran. At that point it will be the Coalition of One.
It must make the men and women of the U.S. military feel good to have all those allies with them as they drive their bedraggled Humvees through the IED-strewn streets of Iraq.
Especially when they know that most, if not all, of these coalition members only joined because they were threatened with aid cut-offs or bribed with promises of arms supplies and loans.
The problem for the Bush administration is that many of the members of this "Coalition of the Willing" were never really willing. Their governments may have been, but their people were not, and a number of governments-for example those in Italy and Spain-fell in large part because of popular rage over their countries’ involvement in Bush’s Iraq fiasco. Unlike in America, the voting public in these countries was able to force their governments to change course and get out.
There’s a lesson there.
Maybe after the Brits and the Ozzies leave Iraq, Americans will see the light and demand that the U.S. leave the coalition too.
Then maybe Iraq can start to recover from its long nightmare.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His n book of CounterPunch columns titled "This Can’t be Happening!" is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s newest book is "The Case for Impeachment",
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org