Recently, I attended a conference in Washington, D.C., that focused on the dilemmas involved in the expansion of NATO. One of the American speakers, referring to the membership of the small Baltic nation of Estonia in the U.S.-led security organization, expressed concern that the Estonians could force the Americans into a military confrontation with the Russians by igniting tensions between Tallinn and Moscow over some minor territorial dispute. The statement provoked an angry response from an Estonian diplomat: “Estonia, as a close ally of the United States, has committed its military forces to fight on the side of the Americans in Iraq,” he argued. “We are a trusted member of the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq. We rushed to lend you a hand when you needed it, and we expect you to come to our help when we face a similar threat.”
Why does this Estonian expect the Americans to nuke the Russians (if needed)? Well, the Estonians do have 35 troops in Iraq, which is more than what some other members of the “coalition” currently have in Mesopotamia—e.g., the Netherlands (15), Slovenia (4), and Iceland (2). And, in fact, two Estonian soldiers were killed in Iraq. I get it now.
There is something pathetic in the notion, promoted by the Bush administration, that the United States, with more than 140,000 troops in Iraq, is leading a “coalition” or an “alliance” or a “multinational force” there, when the largest military contingency of non-Americans in that country is from Britain, with 7,100.
Then, just as the White House launched the “Surge,” increasing the number of American troops in Iraq by more than 20,000, we learned that the Brits are planning to withdraw more than 2,000 of their troops by the end of the year. The announcement by outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair came just a few days after John Howard, the prime minister of Australia, another leading member of the “coalition”—550 troops, down from 2,000—exhibited a remarkable level of political chutzpah when he warned Americans not to elect a presidential candidate who was calling for the gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. And Denmark’s 460 troops under British command are scheduled to return home by August.
In response, one member of the Bush administration’s unruly spin machine told the Washington Post that the British announcement is—get this!—“a basically good-news story,” while U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed that the planned British withdrawal is “consistent” with the U.S. strategy for victory in Iraq. It’s just what the doctor in Washington prescribed!
Vice President Dick Cheney went even further in employing the necons’ another-turning-point-on-the-road-to-victory rhetoric. In an interview with ABC News during his February visit to Tokyo, Cheney called the planned British withdrawal from Shiite-dominated southern Iraq “an affirmation that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well.” Which, of course, explains why President Bush decided to deploy more U.S. troops to Iraq after telling the American people that things in Iraq are not going pretty well, or well at all.
On the same day, and on the same front page reporting the “basically good-news story” about the British withdrawal, the New York Times published an account of the cascading effect that the “Surge” is putting on the U.S. Armed Forces—in particular, the Army and the Reserves. The Times reported that the Pentagon is responding to the demands of President Bush’s buildup by planning to send more than 14,000 National Guard troops back to Iraq next year, shortening their time between deployments.
Considering the overstretching of the U.S. military as a result of the war in Iraq (and Afghanistan), it seems quite astounding that Great Britain—and Australia, and Denmark, and the Netherlands, and Slovenia, not to mention Estonia—are not deploying more troops to Iraq to help their American ally stand up against a threat that the Bush administration has compared to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Indeed, when Great Britain, under the leadership of Winston Churchill, was standing up against Nazi Germany in a lonely battle that could have determined the fate of the civilized world, her allies, led by the United States, provided her with huge military and economic aid—and, eventually, with hundreds of thousands of troops that helped the Allies win World War II. Even the small Polish exile government in London was instrumental in mobilizing critical scientific and intelligence aid to the Brits. This is what allies—as opposed to “allies”—do.
But that all happened back when we knew a “basically good-news story” when we read one. That such a simple task has become a Mission Not Accomplished in the era of Neoconspeak is certainly a basically bad-news story.