“Coalition of the willing” revisited

When voluntary, strong alliances could not be garnered by the Bush administration in its effort to bring down the Iraqui regime, the search went on “to coalesce” in some shape or form. No surprise that a “coalition of the willing” was hatched from that same nest that gave us “the axes of evil.” Turning the sentiment of the few into a protracted appearance of the many became a public relations job for the White House. And public relations, at least at the national level, were in good hands with those surrounding this president.

Whether one views the recent military exercise in Iraq as an invasion, or as a war, seems to matter little. However, should the choice be war, preemptive at that, it should be addressed as a war of choice, not of necessity; unless Bush’s political doctrine redefines the meaning of necessity. In this regard, it would be difficult to disagree with former president Carter who could not see this war of choice as a just war. It was the government’s desire to engage in a “war-regardless” for reasons of its own, expressed or implied, clear or cloudy, moral or amoral. And, without the imprimatur of the UN’s Security Council, the US launched a military attack under the nom de guerre, “coalition of the willing,” a term likely to resonate in yet-to-be-written history books.

It was easy to understand how economic interests alone would bring about the membership of three dozen countries into an otherwise nonsensical grouping. But, what about Spain ? …or Great Britain ? How could the governments of those two countries accede to such a course of action as proposed by Bush when the citizenry in both nations was pronouncedly anti-war?

It soon became apparent that these two members of the Security Council were adopting the pro-Washington stance of their leaders, and not of the people. Perhaps it was the search for a personal rubric to their already successful, and mature, political careers that led Blair and Aznar to side with Bush while taking strong criticism from their countrymen for so doing. Blair, having already committed British troops to the Pentagon’s war plans, had little choice but to go the rest of the way. Aznar, far more restricted by his government in matters of war than his American and British counterparts, could offer less. As a result, he ended up playing baritone in a supposedly ensemble of three tenors, providing diplomatic and moral support, if not direct military help. One might add that Aznar’s baritone performance was a little out-of-tune since he could not help deliver two important votes in the Security Council, those of Spain’s sister nations, Chile and Mexico.

At this point, it would be premature to do a post-mortem on the coalition. An overwhelming superiority in weaponry made the military campaign shorter than anticipated, more of a no-show for the Iraqui defense effort. That is, the traditional military phase of the conflict. The pacification, reconstruction and so-called democratization of Iraq are barely getting started with a series of missteps. During these first weeks of occupation, it is becoming loud and clear that at best the Bush administration had a war plan, but little else. Decisions are being made shortsightedly, or not made at all, to something long in the planning, and that augurs major problems for both, the American presence in Iraq , and the ongoing war on terrorism. Further developments in this arena will affect the outcome of the final analysis, and how coalition junior partners are to fare in this association. Even more important, how the image of America might have changed in the minds of those peoples whose governments decided to coalesce with the leadership in Washington . There remains much evidence yet to be presented, and events yet to take place, before such post-mortem.

For now, the swift military victory and low tally in military casualties have swung British public opinion from anti-war to pro-Blair. Neither Robin Cook’s resignation in March, nor Claire Short’s resignation this week, have marred Blair’s popularity. However, the insistence by Washington to deny the UN a strong voice in the reconstruction of Iraq could pose a major problem for Blair. As for the Labour Party, thawing relations with other EU members, particularly France and Germany , is of great importance. That situation is not being helped by the Bush administration and its distaste for the anti-war stance that those two countries took.

As for Aznar, his popularity has suffered considerably if one pays attention to recent polls. Since Spain is holding municipal elections on May 25, it will be interesting to see whether the center-right Partido Popular headed by him maintains the comfortable majority it held pre-Iraq war, when Spain ’s head of government decided to go all out in his support for the Bush administration, doing so against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Spaniards. (The number of Spaniards who rejected the war, 80% to 90%, was representative of the anti-war sentiment which prevailed throughout the world.)

No one articulated George W. Bush’s reasons for going to war better than Tony Blair. And never were international relationships put to a test in a more convincing manner than with this unpopular war. Because of this, it might behoove the Bush administration to moderate the tone in its proclamations, doing away with uncalled for rumsfeldian arrogance. It is but a small gesture of thanks that Washington can provide for those who dared coalesce with the United States in this Iraqui adventure. If President Bush could not find it within him to be gracious with the Dixie Chicks, as the leader of the United States he owes the country a touch of graciousness in international relations.