Also nice to see that U.S. legislators aren't the only ones who leave town for a month without completing essential business, but that's really neither here nor there.
Commanders of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, as the American-led coalition is formally called, have a looming nomenclature problem.
Two days from now, there will no longer be any other nations with troops in Iraq — no “multi” in the Multi-National Force. As Iraqi forces have increasingly taken the lead, the United States is the last of the “coalition of the willing” that the Bush administration first brought together in 2003.
That is partly because the Iraqi Parliament left suddenly for summer recess without voting to extend an agreement for the British military to keep a residual training force of 100 soldiers in Iraq. As a result, those troops must withdraw to Kuwait by Friday, according to a British diplomat, who declined to be identified in keeping with his government’s practice.
As for the other two small remnants of the coalition, the Romanians and Australians, the Australians will be gone by July 31, too, and the Romanians left last Thursday, according to the Romanian chargé d’affaires, Cristian Voicu.
NATO will keep a small training presence in Iraq, but its troops were never considered part of the Multi-National Force because of opposition to the war from many NATO countries.
In response to a query, American military officials acknowledged the need for a name change, and said Multi-National Force-Iraq would officially become United States Force-Iraq as of Jan. 1, 2010, according to the deputy coalition spokesman, Lt. Col. Mike Stewart. “This is done to reflect the new bilateral relationship between U.S. forces and our Iraqi hosts,” he said.
Seriously though: when you hear people dispute the "indispensable nation" moniker, consider the fact that 38 countries contributed troops to a war that most of them thought was stupid. Why? Probably because they imagine that there's something that America has to offer them, and they want us to answer the phone when they call. (Poland is a great example here.) Then read Patrick Porter at Kings of War, who reminds us that Britain's vital national interest in Iraq (if slightly less so in Afghanistan) has been the maintenance of the "special relationship" with the United States.
A perhaps bittersweet reality of this coalition is partly reflected in the casualty numbers (over 4,300 American KIA; 139 dead from other coalition partners combined): the duties performed by units from different countries differed dramatically in context and content. An example:
We could say "well, it's great that all those combat-hardened Georgian troops had the Iraq experience to prepare them to defend their own soil against an aggressor" (and I'm pretty sure some conservative commentators did at the time), but how useful was performing border security and manning checkpoints when it came to repelling Russian armored columns?
Th[e] chief utility [of coalition soldiers] was to free American soldiers from routine but necessary duties. Georgia’s fairly large contingent handled all the checkpoints in the fortified Green Zone of Baghdad, for instance, and brooked no arguments from people trying to enter, especially since few of the soldiers spoke anything but Russian or Georgian.
The deployment was popular with the Georgians, who often were seen buying reduced-price televisions and stereos at the PX to send home for resale. The country’s contribution grew to a peak of 2,000, until the soldiers were abruptly withdrawn last August and rushed home to defend Georgia after the Russians invaded.
This isn't to diminish the contributions of our allies and partners, because every Salvadoran manning a vehicle checkpoint frees up an American to engage in combat operations. But doesn't it highlight the way that we're moving toward not a bifurcated American Army of high-intensity, conventional combat types on the one hand and stability operations troops on the other, but rather a bifurcated coalition and a bifurcated Atlantic alliance? Or maybe not even "moving toward," but that we're already there.
It gives me a chuckle every time I hear an American defense analyst opposing European efforts to formulate a common foreign and security policy, or develop a "European army," because they're worried about the marginalization of NATO. What in the last sixty years has suggested that the Europeans are capable of defending themselves from a conventional threat without American participation?
It might be time for U.S. planners to start considering whether the commitments we've made to European territorial defense are proportional to the contributions we can expect from our Allies in future military enterprises (which by dint of geography are almost certain not to include defense of the American homeland). The Brits sure are trying to convince us that there is value in maintaining our relationships, and in the case of the UK it's nearly impossible to argue otherwise. Perhaps we could say the same about Ukraine, seeing as influence over that country makes it possible for Russia to threaten our interests on the European continent.